So far, Apple has been the slowest of the big boys to getting an augmented or virtual reality product to market. The company’s iPhone is the single most popular smart phone on the planet and its computer products enjoy relative popularity (in early 2014, they were almost 9% of the market, a quadrupling from turn-of-the-century numbers). On a trip to Tokyo this week, CEO Tim Cook told BuzzFeed that he believes there is “no substitute for human contact. And so you want the technology to encourage that.”
Cook also said he thinks augmented reality can be “huge.” And if the numbers from the recent phenomenon of Pokémon Go are any indication, he’s absolutely right. Apple’s various platforms add up to a big opportunity, but their phones in particular could pave the way for the company making a serious play in the augmented and virtual reality space.
In many ways, modern humans are already experiencing many of the things previously only dreamed of in science fiction. One can walk down the street and have a video call with someone a thousand miles away. Perhaps the next step on this path will be the spectre of hologram calls. Back in 2013, Skype told the BBC that it was already capable of as much. Apple would certainly make waves if it were the first major platform to make this Star Wars-esque technology an everyday reality.
Other potential exists on the hologram front. Video entertainment and gaming could reach a whole new level. The Apple TV is one of the less successful ventures the company has ever launched, but the advent of holographic television shows taking place in one’s living room might revive interest.
Apple has made a number of acquisitions that point in the direction of holographic, augmented, and virtual reality technology. The company which created the original Microsoft Xbox Kinect sensors, PrimeSense, is now owned by Apple, along with Faceshift, who provided real-time motion capturing for Star Wars productions. The two main reasons to acquire a company are either to stop it from competing with you or to make use of its assets, and Apple presently has no major dog in the augmented reality/virtual reality fight. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that somewhere in Cupertino, someone is working on something for the future.
Cook also said that he doesn’t think virtual reality is as “broad-based” as augmented reality. The company has been in meetings with immersive technology companies such as Jaunt, a company which makes films compatible with virtual reality technology. Cook seems most interested in the communication aspect of AR and VR, saying that conversations could be made more productive.
I think that things like these are better when they’re incorporated without becoming a barrier to our talking. You want the technology to amplify it, not to be a barrier.
Perhaps Cook, like many, fears a future of people walking around with helmets, totally immune to their surroundings, and would rather find ways to boost traditional communication and technological capabilities. More of a Google Glass than an Oculus approach to the thing, as it were. In any case, it does seem that virtual reality, augmented reality, and even holographic communications are just around the bend for consumers.
It’s important to remember that just a decade ago, a smart phone in every pocket was hard to imagine, so the rise of these technologies could happen faster than anyone expects. The success of Pokémon Go was only a preview of things to come.
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