Is This Apple’s Next Big Breakthrough Product? – Vanity Fair
C.E.O. Tim Cook is awfully tightlipped about Apple’s augmented reality technology for someone who can’t stop gushing about its potential. It “gives the capability for both of us to sit and be very present, talking to each other, but also have other things—visually—for both of us to see,” Cook said excitedly during an interview with Good Morning America in September. “Maybe it’s something we’re talking about, maybe it’s someone else here who’s not here present but who can be made to appear to be present.” Yet, true to form, the world’s most valuable tech company has kept its cards close to its chest. While Snapchat has Spectacles and Facebook has the Oculus, Apple has refrained from so much as discussing plans to create its own headset or hardware device.
Still, details are beginning to leak out. According to a new report from Bloomberg, “hundreds of engineers” are working on developing Apple’s own augmented-reality glasses, though the technology might first make its debut on a forthcoming iPhone:
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.
After years in which Apple promised that the Next Big Thing was around the corner—an Apple TV that could compete with cable, a driverless car—experts believe the $738 billion company could create another breakthrough device category if it succeeds with A.R. where other companies have failed. Augmented reality, unlike virtual-reality technology currently on the market, promises to be less inhibiting, allowing users to interact with the real world in a way that they can’t with headsets like the HoloLens or the Oculus. While Google abandoned Glass—its now-defunct 2012 A.R. headset product—after it was dismissed as uncool and, at the time, a bit creepy, attitudes toward tech have changed over the past half-decade. And if anyone can make A.R. eyewear sleek and attractive, it’s Apple.
The potential returns are nothing to sneeze at. While Pokémon Go, last year’s A.R.-based video-game sensation, turned out to be faddish, analysts say A.R. is poised to become a $165 billion market by 2024. Snapchat, which has rebranded itself as a camera company, is already getting into the game with its Spectacles hardware product. But there’s still time for Apple to become the first major tech company to implement A.R. successfully and deliver a singular, category-defining product for a mass audience. If Cook can’t do it, somebody else certainly will.