Tim Cook finally confirms Apple has augmented reality plans

Those powerful processors and advanced graphics technologies gonna augment your reality. Just ask Siri.

Apple, AR, iOS, Nintendo
Credit: Jonny Evans

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, set the cat amongst the pigeons last night when he confirmed the company is working on augmented reality (AR).

Apple high

“We have been and continue to invest a lot in this,” he said. “We are high on AR for the long run, we think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.”

He also discussed this season’s smash hit in AR, Pokemon Go, which is expected to generate $3 billion for Apple over the next two years:

“The number one thing is to make sure our products work well with other developers’ kind of products like Pokemon, that’s why you see so many iPhones in the wild chasing Pokemons,” he said.

No surprises

It wasn’t unexpected.

“Don’t be surprised when Apple hints about its own headset in the next few months,” I wrote in January this year. A few months have now passed…

Look and you’ll see that Apple has a great infrastructure for third party AR/VR. Not only are there around a billion actively used iOS devices, but most of these are already using 64-bit processors, which are available in iPhone 6, 6S and iPhone SE series devices, and the latest iPads. Its platforms are set to become even more powerful later this year with iPhone 7.

Those processors deliver more than enough horsepower to fully exploit iOS’ hardware-accelerated graphics API, Metal, as well as core technologies such as QuickTime, OpenGL, OpenCL, Core Audio, Quartz Composer, Core Video, Core Animation. Add great camera technologies and superior displays and you can see why Pokemon Go players have become addicted to iOS.

Years of investment

All the same, beyond the mainstream media this confirmaton of Apple's interest in AR isn’t really news.

We know the company has been exploring the space for years, since way before Google’s Eric Schmidt quit Apple’s board and way before Google Glass was a twinkle in Sergey Brin’s eye. “iPodfather”, Tony Fadell led Apple’s VR efforts for years.

There is plenty of additional evidence to support the notion Apple has been quietly investing in the space for years.

The company holds numerous VR-related patents and last year won another for a virtual reality device that turns your iPhone into some form of VR headset.

In 2015 it purchased augmented reality firm Metaio. More recently it purchased Flyby Media, and has acquired Faceshift and Emotient.

There are multiple recruitment ads on its jobsite seeking engineers who are “comfortable with VR and AR concepts.” It has been hiring people with these skills since at least last year.

The FT recently claimed Apple has hundreds of staff “from a series of carefully targeted acquisitions” working with others “poached from companies that are working on next-generation headset technologies.”

What the company said last night is clearly intended as a non-virtual message to developers to let them know it has products that should “work well” with VR applications.

In fact it has a billion such products out there, and its growing focus on services means it wants its developers to succeed. And, as Needham & Co. analyst, Laura Martin noted last week: "Apple is THE global distribution platform for mobile content winnners."

One more thing

Apple’s focus appears to be on AR, rather than virtual reality (VR). I think these terms will become synonymous. I predict iOS developers will build AR environments that may easily be described as VR.

I also believe that while Pokemon Go is the focus of interest right now, the real money will come from making solutions that augment what we already do in daily life.

I can (for example) imagine Apple making significant investment in AR solutions for medical professionals, for example; and I can certainly imagine it using AR technologies within the future Apple Car.

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