Is AR Apple’s Next Act?

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Take a deep breath. Ten years ― that’s how long it’s been since the first iPhone arrived. It launched a new era, a juggernaut of connectivity, apps, mobile-first web design, and the connected consumer.

How sure am I of the iPhone’s importance? Look down. Chances are, you’re reading this on one.

So September 2017 is an anniversary packed with nostalgia, expectations, and potential.

The iPhone 8 will come out this fall. Rumors of drama, delays, hardware and manufacturing issues notwithstanding, there’s a sparkling new iPhone in our future.

It’s also likely to be the first mass-market moment for what has been ― until now ― a “geeks-only” festival of hopes and dreams.

Apple will launch the world into the augmented reality era. AR arrives with the iPhone 8.

This isn’t a guess or a fervent hope. For Apple developers at the June Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose, the announcement of ARKit was the starting gun in a race to the future.

And my developer friends tell me it’s everything they hoped it would be: thought through, easy to implement, and developer-friendly.

Which is to say ― likely to have a fast start.

But, let’s back up. What exactly is AR, and why does it matter? Virtual reality headsets block the outside world and display a 3D image, making it appear as if you’re inside a 3D virtual world. Great for games ― but not very useful if you’re walking on the street, or out in daily life.

AR layers the digital world on top of the real world. Google Glass was an early attempt to layer digital on top of reality (albeit 2d images), and Microsoft Hololens took a swing at it. I owned Google Glass and was an early demo reviewer of Hololens. Both were disappointments.

But Apple has unique advantages. There are now more than 700 million iPhones currently in use worldwide, according to BMO Capital Markets analyst Tim Long, as noted in Fortune.

And Apple’s powerful App developer marketplace is poised to give Apple a fast start into the nascent world of AR applications ― unlike the Android developer platform, which is the wild West of software, an uncurated and therefore often unreliable user experience.

And then there’s Tim Cook.

The Apple CEO is an unabashed fan of AR. He told the Washington Post he thinks of AR as a “core technology” for the next generation of Apple. “So yes, it’s something we’re doing a lot of things on behind that curtain we talked about,” he said.

And analysts tend to agree. KGI Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo pointed to how the iPod paved the way for the iPhone. He said today iPhone could provide the basis for a full-blown AR solution.

So, back to September.

Today, there’s a massive gap between what digital information could do, and the current handheld, flat, smartphone experience.

AR is poised to explode on the word, changing travel, shopping, health care, communications, music, entertainment, fashion, and of course education.

Consumers want digital to do more. The software is trapped in flat handheld screens ― tiny windows into a massive digital world. AR changed that in a magic moment. And this fall, Apple will release AR on a new phone, with compatibility onto its recent iPhones.

My friend Robert Scoble, longtime tech futurist, is absolutely sure that Apple will launch the AR revolution this fall. While his argument has many points, the one I find irrefutable is that Apple has a strong relationship with consumers, and… it has stores. More than 450 of them, with cheerful and well-trained staffers, ready to help their customers experience and understand what AR can be used for.

Microsoft, Samsung, Google, and Facebook all have AR plans in the works, but they don’t have the retail locations that can leapfrog the tech from geeks to average consumers.

So if you haven’t thought about AR, now is the time.

Finally, here’s a quick sampling of AR to get your gears turning.

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