Apple won’t announce VR for the rest of us at WWDC

At first, Apple's pricey mixed-reality devices will be pitched toward business, developers, and pros — but that doesn't mean your business should ignore them.

Apple, AR, glasses, iOS, WWDC, accessibility. AI, Siri
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The whispering will continue until the weather improves, as Apple seems set on introducing its v.1 mixed-reality goggles at or just before this year's Wordlwide Developers Conference (WWDC), even as it puts software evolution on the fast track.

Not for the rest of us

These will only be of slight interest to most people, of course. The price, said to be around $3,000, reflects that. At first, they're likely to be pitched toward businesses, developers, and pro users.

Think of them as a kind of highly advanced tech blank canvas into which Apple will put much energy to convince developers to explore the new platform.

There will, of course, be a platform. While they may well offer a nice lean-back entertainment experience, Apple will be looking to figure out how to make these things useful to people. That means putting the processor to work doing things that matter more than creating second-rate metaverse experiences with aesthetics akin to "Second Life" two decades ago.

The secret of good marketing? Timing…

The timing is interesting. Bloomberg suggests we may get our first glance at the goggles at or before WWDC in June, with developers at the show being given the low-down into what the xrOS can do. It’s possible the devices won’t ship in quantity until fall.

Developers might also be treated to an improved M-powered Mac Pro equipped with the computational horsepower to build xrOS experiences. And it’s possible they may be offered Apple Reality testing kits to help kick-start development.

Apple has done this before, such as when it introduced an Apple M-powered Mac mini developers could use to begin building for Apple Silicon. (Word is some high-profile developers have already been given access to build apps for these goggles.)

Who should be interested?

I think most businesses with existing interest in customer-focused immersive experiences will want to put these things through their paces to assess what competitive advantage they provide. They will do so knowing that competitors are doing the same thing.

Smaller entities will also want to take a reality check on Apple glass to see whether they can generate real business success through a gentle dabble in Apple reality.

We’ve seen all this before, particularly on the introduction of the App Store for iPhone, but also with the move to Mac OS X and the iPad launch. We also saw this to a lesser extent on Apple TV and Apple Watch, though both the latter platforms turned out to be best for a narrower band of experiences.

Think different, think bigly

But I don’t think Apple intends its goggles to provide a narrow band of experiences. These things should harness full strength computational power navigated by a combination of sight, sense, and sound.

The best way to get some sense of how Apple probably sees the UI is to explore what’s already possible when using the accessibility tools it builds into its platforms, particularly Voice Control. Though we probably won’t see the full fruits of this philosophy in v.1.

Apple is on the fast track, though. It seems it has pulled its software development teams away from iOS 17 development to focus on xrOS. This implies the company will go large on AR across its platforms at WWDC, and hints at improvements in accessibility and spoken word controls.

Security and privacy will be critical

Another prediction: no one will want to become a social pariah when they walk round with public-facing video cameras on their heads, which is why Apple will have to double down on both security and privacy.

I think of this as HomeKit Secure Video worn on your face, stored in iCloud but accessible only to you — though investigative reporters will be poking into the T&Cs to verify the extent to which that video is shared. Not many of us will tolerate it if Apple is revealed to employ teams of robots and/or people to grade video for accuracy. I imagine privacy advocates and regulators will be looking very closely at what happens to public-facing video gathered by AR goggles from every manufacturer.

They must. We’ve seen how social media posts can be monetized and weaponized — now imagine how 24/7 video feeds of daily life may also be abused.

Apple dents reality

If Apple gets this right, the next 12 to 24 months should see enterprises, developers, and pro users explore the potential of the new platform to build new solutions.

The timing is good in that it implies that, by the time WWDC 2025 comes around,  Apple will have achieved enough real-life feedback to recognize exactly where its new platform makes the most sense. That information should inform the company as it moves toward the anticipated introduction of more discreet versions of its goggles that you can wear on the street without coming across as alien.

Of course, by the time that happens in 2025 or 2026, we’ll also see Apple combining 5G modems inside the ARM-powered 3nm system-on-chips its processor teams are driving toward.

That’s exciting because those chips will provide the right combination of computational power with low-energy demands future wearables will require. I still see the ultimate outcome being Macs you wear like sunglasses and can use all day.

Not only this, but by then Apple management presumably hopes to have built a far more resilient hardware manufacturing and supply chain, distributed across more nations than before. The company’s mixed reality devices are more likely to be made in India, Vietnam, Thailand, or Japan than in China.

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