This past May, I argued that augmented reality, where digital objects are imposed upon the user's physical world, would reach a broad audience faster than virtual reality, where users are transported into an entirely digital environment. I also said that Apple would the company to move AR forward.
Here's what I wrote at the time:
Which company will be the first to create an AR platform with mass appeal? My best guess is Apple, given the way it attacks markets with new software platforms that it then uses to sell hardware. Of course, Apple is rarely first to market with emerging technologies, and rivals like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon won't be far behind. Being the first mover has plenty of advantages, after all.
Apple might pull this off via a one-two punch. First, I would expect it to introduce a next-generation iPhone with AR-specific features, like a 360-degree camera, new sensors and an improved touchscreen. Second, Apple would create a dedicated AR software layer that sits on top of the iPhone's existing operating system, tied to the aforementioned new hardware. That would be followed with a software development kit for programmers to create new iPhone apps to take advantage of all this new AR horsepower.
I've followed Apple for many years, so it wasn't much of a stretch to predict how the Cupertino, Calif. tech giant could get into AR. They typically start new endeavors like this at a platform level, then offer software developers tools to create innovative apps to help define Apple's strategy.
While my ideas were fairly accurate, I assumed that Apple would wait and introduce these new tools on the next iPhone, expected this fall. I figured that Apple could take advantage of new camera and sensor technology on that yet-to-be-announced device to do interesting new things with AR. But the company released those AR development tools, called ARKit, during its annualWWDC event last week .
Given the chance to speak with Apple CEO Tim Cook during WWDC, I asked him why Apple introduced its AR developer tools now, rather waiting until fall. Cook said that, given Apple's platform-based approach to AR, its software should be able to run on most iPhones and iPads, rather than being tied to a specific design. Talking with Cook left me with the impression that Apple has a much grander vision for AR down the road.
I believe that Apple's move will make it the major leader in AR almost overnight. Google might have its Tango AR project and AR developer tools for Android, but the fragmentation of the Android world and the need to create dedicated Tango phones will make it hard for Android to compete with Apple in the future.
Furthermore, I believe it was important that Apple used the iPad as its vehicle to introduce ARKit, giving people a look at how AR works on different kinds of devices. Cook told me that he believes that there will be serious interest from the enterprise and vertical markets for AR apps, and that the iPad would be the best AR-equipped device for enterprise customers. For example, it's easy to see people like interior decorators, real estate agents and similar professionals use AR to work with clients.
AR will be a huge differentiator for Apple on both the iPhone and iPad. It will also help expand Apple's userbase, and tie existing users even further into the company's ecosystem. The significance of ARKit was largely missed amongst the other updates and new products, like the HomePod speaker. But I imagine ARKit will be a key building block as Apple looks to expand its prowess in AI — perhaps even via a head-mounted device like glasses or goggles, once the public is ready for such a product.
Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.