Apple’s next big thing: Augmented Reality

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg:

Investors impatient for Apple’s next breakthrough will be happy to know that Cook is very serious about AR. People with knowledge of the company’s plans say Apple has embarked on an ambitious bid to bring the technology to the masses—an effort Cook and his team see as the best way for the company to dominate the next generation of gadgetry and keep people wedded to its ecosystem.

Apple has built a team combining the strengths of its hardware and software veterans with the expertise of talented outsiders, say the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal strategy. Run by a former Dolby Laboratories executive, the group includes engineers who worked on the Oculus and HoloLens virtual reality headsets sold by Facebook and Microsoft as well as digital-effects wizards from Hollywood. Apple has also acquired several small firms with knowledge of AR hardware, 3D gaming and virtual reality software.

And:

Building a successful AR product will be no easy task, even for a company known for slim, sturdy devices. The current crop of AR glasses are either under-powered and flimsy or powerful and overwhelmingly large. Apple, the king of thin and light, will have to leapfrog current products by launching something small and powerful.

Adding AR features to the iPhone isn’t a giant leap. Building glasses will be harder. Like the Watch, they’ll probably be tethered to the iPhone.

And:

In 2015, Apple recruited Mike Rockwell, who previously ran the hardware and new technologies groups at Dolby, the iconic company known for its audio and video technology. Rockwell also advised Meta, a small firm that makes $950 AR glasses and counts Dolby as an investor.

Rockwell now runs the main AR team at Apple, reporting to Dan Riccio, who’s in charge of the iPhone and iPad hardware engineering groups.

Read the whole thing. I can’t wait for Apple’s take on AR. This is a gigantic problem, combining the difficulties of crafting brand new, power hungry hardware with sophisticated, layered, ground-breaking software. To me, this is way bigger than the Apple Watch, a much harder nut to crack.

Will Apple start with vertical applications, designed for a specific space like, say, construction, or home design? Or will they try to craft a killer AR app usable by the masses?

Will Apple bring Siri into the mix? If so, how deeply? And, if so, how will they leverage Susan Bennett’s voice? At some point, doesn’t Siri need some backup talent in case Susan is unavailable?



  • MacKungFu by Keir T

    It’s going to fail unless they get the mask sorted out. Nobody outside dedicated geeks will even consider wearing a huge clunky headset. It’s claustrophobic and if you’re also cut off from hearing anything as well as seeing anything then it’s a like of sensory deprivation that’s extremely unpleasant.

    Seriously, I’m really surprised anybody is seriously talking seriously about AR or VR without this being addressed. It’s the elephant in the room. Google tried it with Glass and, my, what a success that was.

    I have sleep apnoea and have to wear a CPAP mask at night to sleep. The failure rate with CPAP treatment is huge, and it’s all down to that mask. Almost everybody hates wearing it, with a gender bias towards women.

    Things that fit over our heads are not nice, folks! Super simple stuff!

    • Any Apple AR device is only going to be as obtrusive as an Apple Watch or AirPods are. Anything that’s “clunky” in any way simply won’t get shipped from Apple, and suggesting they might ship something that’s at all awkward to have on means not knowing the fundamental approach of the company.

      • rick gregory

        The problem is that given current and near term tech, can you do that and deliver meaningful, compelling AR?

        • The problem is making any assumption that Apple would deliver anything at all if it wasn’t unobtrusive, rather than wait as long as it takes to keep it from being clunky and awkward.

          Note that this discussion is actually hilarious in light of the fact that one of the frequent criticisms of Apple is that they overemphasize on design. For example making their phones and laptops thinner and dropping ports from them when no one was asking for that, instead of keeping them the same thickness with a full set of ports and increasing their battery life, which people do ask for.

    • Well, apparently Apple talked to these guys:

      http://www.epglmed.com/

      While I don’t like contacts because I hate sticking things in my eyes (god forbid I ever have an issue that needs eye surgery — I’ll probably just go blind to avoid the PTSD), there is work being done on things like this, including by Samsung. So, form factors vary widely from helmets and masks.

      • rick gregory

        Im with you. And this kind of thing won’t fly with the people who don’t otherwise need vision correction. For those of us who do, it’s easy to see two options – these and something on glasses so that I can wear my glasses and get the features. But for people who neither need glasses nor contacts? Non-starter.

        • Do people who don’t need corrective lenses ever put on sunglasses? I mean, why the heck would they ever do that if their vision doesn’t need correction? It can’t be because they’re getting some other benefit from hanging those things on their face, can it? And it’s not like there’s a whole industry devoted to the design of stylish and fashionable frames and lenses that are meant to be worn by people who either don’t need vision correction, or who are already wearing contact lenses…

          • rick gregory

            Sure, people wear sunglasses who don’t need vision correction… but they only do so in the sunny months. Unless they live in places like San Diego where it’s sunny most of the time, those people are going to spend months without using sunglasses, making glasses-based AR useless for them unless they’re willing to wear glasses when they don’t need to for either vision or sun protection. And sunglasses indoors start to be counter productive.

          • You’re missing the point entirely. There are glasses worn for vision correction, independent of sun protection. There are glasses worn for sun protection, independent of vision correction. There can be glasses worn for something else, independent of BOTH vision correction and sun protection, as long as that something else is compelling enough. As Horace Dedieu of Asymco would say, it’s a matter of a job to be done.

            100 years ago, people wouldn’t leave the house without a hat on their head, even if they didn’t need it for sun protection. Now people don’t leave the house without their phone in their pocket or bag. There may come a day when people won’t leave the house without a HUD on their head.

          • rick gregory

            Im not missing the point. I agree that there can be glasses worn for other reasons, but I doubt very seriously that people will adopt glasses for most AR. It will have to be, as you say, compelling. Pokemon Go would be fun… but not compelling. Many vertical applications will be compelling but they’re by nature niches.

            So, the question will be what’s compelling enough to make glasses worth it? They’re very different than phones in that they are on your face and influence how you present yourself to the world second by second. That’s the bridge that will need to be built.

  • StruckPaper

    It’s rare that Apple is the first bring something new to market. They usually do it better than the real pioneer and are about to mass market it more successfully. Given that no one has successfully brought AR to the market yet. Will Apple actually be the first?

  • Scott Adams

    I just don’t see glasses ever being a successful application of the tech for the masses. Very little of the population under age 45 wears glasses (excluding sunglasses). The ones over 45 hate them and only want them for reading tiny text. I’ve also never heard a use case where it would make AR glasses worth wearing to consumers who don’t require them.

    As you suggest Dave, I imagine it’s directed toward usage in specific fields like medical or sales. Business sales seems something Cook and co. are very focused on and AR is a door a competitor could sneak though.

    I’m also wondering if this might make the iPad a dead end. Conceivably I could wear glasses and look at a blank sheet of paper and see the same thing I would see on an iPad. Could say the same for monitors and TVs.

    Actually, I might have just talked myself into a compelling consumer use case.

    • “excluding sunglasses” …which are a significant style and fashion accessory that people will often wear even when they’re not out in bright sun…

      Almost makes one think about white earbuds and Beats headphones as style and fashion accessories, in addition to their functionality… Not to mention Apple watches and their multiple swappable bands…

  • sflomenb

    A main reason I dislike this stuff is what do people with glasses, like myself, do?