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What Impact Might Apple Have on Augmented Reality?

by David MacQueen | Mar 21, 2017

Looking at the augmented reality space… the question I am wondering is “why are companies taking so long to get to market?” Apple acquired 3 AR companies over the last 4 years, Magic Leap has had 7 years and around $1.5 billion but still has no product, and Google’s been working on Project Tango for 5 years (although that has at least finally crept into the market on a single device in the second half of 2016). No-one yet knows what consumers (or enterprises) actually want to do with AR, and without launching a product, how will they ever know?

I can list 3 AR software products that I think are good, and that’s literally all I can think of. Nokia CityLens (5 years old now, way ahead of its time), the thyssenkrupp HoloLens-based engineer support system, and at MWC this year I was impressed with Verizon's envrmnt. Pokémon GO was a big hit last year although personally I thought it quite a limited game. Everything else I’ve seen, I would describe as a tech demo and, by and large, has been underwhelming.

What might Apple do? Could it be an AR development kit for the iPhone, much like Google’s Project Tango? Apple’s strategy has been around high value hardware. This means we can expect hardware, not just software, and therefore AR glasses. It’s most likely to be a companion device to the iPhone – putting a lot of processing power into something lightweight enough to be comfortable for extended periods of wear would be challenging. Although with Apple having been stung by the sluggish sales of the Watch, might they prefer to launch a standalone device? That would increase the addressable market beyond iPhone users, although this would be a break from Apple’s traditional strategy of tying users in to its device and services ecosystem. Perhaps, the glasses form factor is even the next generation of iPhones? This would seem too extreme – I can’t imagine as part of my next smartphone purchase going to the opticians to get lenses fitted. There are many possibilities, but companion smartglasses seems the most likely.

If the recent rumours of Apple launching something in AR soon are true, we can only hope that it will move the market forwards. AR seems to need some kind of injection of pace.

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