Apple is late to AR, but it's going to succeed the way it always does

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware
Apple was far from first to market with the smartphone, the tablet, and now the item tracker. Despite that, it's the iPhone, iPad, and AirTags that people buy -- and it will be the same with Apple AR.




If you had ever decided to make an Augmented Reality device yourself, you'd probably have beaten Apple to it because so has nearly everybody else. It's hard to pin down just when AR started, but Apple is so extraordinarily late to the party that it hasn't even arrived yet.

But then as parties go, AR, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality, are all still a bit of an anticlimax. If you're into the technology, you can certainly have a great time.

And definitely Oculus and the rest have made the most enormous strides forward.

Only, they're not strides that anyone outside the field has noticed. AR headsets sell in enough quantities to be worth continuing to make, but possibly only just enough.

AR's time is coming, it isn't here yet

As far as the general public is concerned, despite Meta's best efforts, AR headsets are these oversized contraptions. In those eyes, they are perhaps are very clever, but don't actually do much, and maybe give you headaches. There are games, there are even dramas, but it still feels like a solution in search of a problem.

Technology is important. Cost is important. But the key issue is that without a clear and compelling reason to buy, the price and any technical advantage don't matter.

Apple is very good on finding what matters. It's also very good at persuading you to then buy its technology, but right at the heart of all of this is that Apple design is really people-first.

It is because of this that Apple is going to succeed in AR. The technology will be clever, the physical design will be appealing, but it will sell because Apple is superb at figuring out why it's worth buying.

It's also very good at conveying that to the general public, which is of course now Apple's target market.

Design is more than how it looks

Even before Apple became the consumer product firm it is, and before it changed its name from Apple Computer, the same thinking about design was bringing it success.

There were myriad PC laptops before Apple's PowerBooks in the 1990s, for example, and plenty were marvels of technology for their time. But they were made by talented people who were not the users who'd eventually buy them.

For technology firms at the time, the issue was that a laptop needs a keyboard, so its designers made one -- and then moved on. Armed with exactly the same information and exactly the same technology constraints, Apple did not move on.

Apple instead continued to focus on how people would actually use the keyboard. This is why PowerBooks introduced the idea of pushing the keyboard to the rear of the machine and giving people palm rests.

It wasn't a technical decision, it was a true design one that any manufacturer could have made -- but only Apple did. There hasn't been a single laptop since 1991 that didn't copy Apple, because Apple got it right.

In 1991, any manufacturer could have moved the keyboard to the back, but only Apple thought of it.
In 1991, any manufacturer could have moved the keyboard to the back, but only Apple thought of it.


You can make a similar case about the iPhone.

Apple's iPhone was far from the first smartphone, and even to this day you can well argue that it lacks certain features of Android. But it's not like that's a mistake, it's not like Apple engineers couldn't wedge in new features.

It's that they decide not to. Of course there are advances that other firms make, and of course there are pressures of cost, reliability, manufacturing and surely others that affect what Apple is able to do.

But the key thing is what it chooses to do. Typically, if there is a new technical advance then some Android manufacturer will make a phone with it, and then they will hope it sells.

Rather than blindly copy ever technology advance, Apple looks further ahead and moreover is willing to take the time to do so.

Which is why we get that image of all phones before the iPhone, and all phones after it. That's why we get a sea-change in every company's technology after Apple has entered the market.

It's how the iPad could come about five years after the hardware finally arrived following Microsoft's push into tablet computers, and leave every single one standing.

Technology is important. Cost is important. But what matters more than anything else is how a product can be used -- and that is really where Apple is stronger than anyone else.

Putting its money where its mouth is

That perspective, that attitude, is ultimately Apple's true strength because it is also behind the company's more immediately visible advantages. Apple looks at the whole picture -- and takes steps to control that whole picture too.

So right now, even as it uses many suppliers across the world, Apple controls every step. It no longer even needs Intel for processor design, now that it's moved to Apple Silicon.

Consequently, from the very processor through all design, all manufacturer, all logistics and the all of its retail chain, Apple controls the whole stack like nobody else. In the case of AR, or any other product, there is nothing beyond physics preventing it doing what it wants.

Whereas every other manufacturer has to inevitably accept compromises as they utilize components that were not build exclusively for its needs.

Similarly, when Apple introduces a new device, it's really adding to the Apple ecosystem. The AirTags leverage the existing Find My network, the forthcoming Apple Business Essentials service is built on the company's iCloud.

Oculus Quest 2
Facebook's (or Meta's, whichever) Oculus Rift


Apple is not the only company that has integrations across its different products. Few companies care about it and have any at all, and no other company has as many. Google perhaps should have the same advantages, but it hasn't yet and is now working to get there.

An Apple AR headset will plug into this same ecosystem. Apple can make it so that the Apple AR headset comes ready-made with its own App Store, for instance.

There is one more thing

Apple is competing in a new market, but it doesn't matter what's shipping now or tomorrow from anybody. It won't even matter that much when Apple jumps in, and when it does, if it is a hair behind from a silicon, glass, and plastic perspective.

It can't be guaranteed that Apple will succeed when the first version of the product launches. It can only be pretty certain that the company will find the compelling use cases for AR that absolutely no one else has.

Even then, in the case of AR, it may take time. It appears that Apple is working to release two different AR headsets, with the first one being a more expensive tool for gamers.

Few companies can take the time and spend the money to work on multiple generations of a product. Even fewer avoid the Osbourne Effect and can sell you one product while not hiding the fact that there's a better one coming. See every iPhone launch, if you need an example.

Apple has the resources to not only take time starting a product, but to take more time getting it right. The Apple Watch took several years before it became the compelling success it is now, for instance.

And even Apple TV+ has demonstrated that success comes when you can afford to keep plugging away at a job until it's where you want it to be.

If there isn't anything sufficiently new and groundbreaking in that first AR hardware that isn't the iPhone itself, though, Apple could undermine its own case about the use of AR -- before it can bring out the consumer second edition.

The iPhone was mocked initially by the heavyweights in the industry, and so were the iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV+. They became the giant successes that they are only after a time.

Maybe that release under criticism about weak points and refinement process will happen with Apple AR at first, too. It will probably go that way, given the established market.

But if Apple fails in this market, it is not going to be because Facebook out-designed it.

Read on AppleInsider
dewme

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    Meh, pretty sure the same thing was said about HomePod. Thing is these niche devices just don't have the same day to day use case that successful Apple products do. Phones/Computers are the original pair of devices that was easy enough for Apple to produce and they kinda sold themselves. On the other hand headphones/watches weren't as ubiquitous, but Apple was successful in making everyone realize they improve the quality of our day to day use of technology. These won't provide that improvement. They'll be a cool tech demo (aka a fad) and then they'll die off.
    neoncatwilliamlondonindieshackcat52
  • Reply 2 of 18
    Apple is actually the first major company to target consumers with AR products. Apple has been dabbling with it for years on the iPhone and iPad. Microsoft has a commercial product but it still considered experimental with a very small number of units in the field. Google glass was more of a heads up display than true AR. The Meta Quest has some very rudimentary AR features starting to appear now but with its low resolution black and white cameras, it can't really do much (still a very fun feature to play with). Apple is late in VR but not AR. Quest is proving that it is XR that holds the most promise. Ghostly AR overlays won't have a long technological shelf life. It's a lot better to look through a pair of very high resolution cameras that can do things like see in the dark, zoom into distant objects, highlight objects of interest or even show something behind you.
    edited January 12 waveparticle
  • Reply 3 of 18
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,798member
    Apple is actually the first major company to target consumers with AR products. Apple has been dabbling with it for years on the iPhone and iPad. Microsoft has a commercial product but it still considered experimental with a very small number of units in the field. Google glass was more of a heads up display than true AR. The Meta Quest has some very rudimentary AR features starting to appear now but with its low resolution black and white cameras, it can't really do much (still a very fun feature to play with). Apple is late in VR but not AR. Quest is proving that it is XR that holds the most promise. Ghostly AR overlays won't have a long technological shelf life. It's a lot better to look through a pair of very high resolution cameras that can do things like see in the dark, zoom into distant objects, highlight objects of interest or even show something behind you.
    If I remember correctly, a lot of these half-baked AR products were rushed to the market only after Tim Cook publicly declared that Apple is looking very seriously at AR.
    waveparticlewilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 18
    The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese…
    blastdoorsconosciutowilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 18
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,860member
    Headline is faulty -- Apple is not "late" to AR. AR is a niche's niche with no mass market successes currently.
    blastdoorwilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 18
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,519member
    Headline is faulty -- Apple is not "late" to AR. AR is a niche's niche with no mass market successes currently.
    I agree -- the smartphone market was much more mature when the iPhone was announced than the AR market is today. 

    If there's a market where Apple is as 'late' as they were with the iPhone, I'd say it's cars (with Tesla perhaps being an analog to Blackberry or Palm). 

    The bigger issue in my mind is introducing an entirely new general purpose computing platform/paradigm without Steve Jobs. I think Apple can do it, but it's not a sure thing by any stretch. Since Jobs death, Apple has made a lot of money, made many great enhancements to their core products, and introduced some killer accessories. But they have not introduced an entirely new general purpose computing platform of the same magnitude as Mac or iPhone. AR has the potential to be that big of a deal. If Apple can pull that off, then it will be evidence that Apple University truly has succeeded in embedding Jobs' DNA in Apple. That would be a huge accomplishment, for Apple and human civilization 
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 18
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,950member
    AR/VR from Apple will be huge with professionals and (unfortunately ;-) gamers. There are already some VR work environments out there for Oculus, but the tie-in to Facebook/Meta is absolutely disgusting.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 18
    Headline is faulty -- Apple is not "late" to AR. AR is a niche's niche with no mass market successes currently.
    Yeah. I like to know what the USP for AR is when it comes to the mass market. 
    Apple is mostly about bringing tech to the masses that is easy to use and has a wide appeal. Every so often they miss the mark and at the moment my view on AR is 'the jury is out and heading towards being hung'.

    If there is a must-have use for the tech then that will change. Until then carry on with the hype.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 18
    Late? Apple released ARKit in 2017. Then Apple released Reality Kit and Reality Composer. Then Apple released  USDZ converter app. Apple has been seeding developers with AR tools for several years, but….. Apple is late sells clickable ads. 
    williamlondonfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 18
    but….. Apple is late sells clickable ads. 
    And attracts a bunch of new trolls to the forums, with the typical resident trolls fighting to be the first to post a negative comment for each article.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 18
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,798member
    blastdoor said:
    Headline is faulty -- Apple is not "late" to AR. AR is a niche's niche with no mass market successes currently.
    I agree -- the smartphone market was much more mature when the iPhone was announced than the AR market is today. 

    If there's a market where Apple is as 'late' as they were with the iPhone, I'd say it's cars (with Tesla perhaps being an analog to Blackberry or Palm). 

    The bigger issue in my mind is introducing an entirely new general purpose computing platform/paradigm without Steve Jobs. I think Apple can do it, but it's not a sure thing by any stretch. Since Jobs death, Apple has made a lot of money, made many great enhancements to their core products, and introduced some killer accessories. But they have not introduced an entirely new general purpose computing platform of the same magnitude as Mac or iPhone. AR has the potential to be that big of a deal. If Apple can pull that off, then it will be evidence that Apple University truly has succeeded in embedding Jobs' DNA in Apple. That would be a huge accomplishment, for Apple and human civilization 
    The smartphone market was much more mature but it was heading down the wrong track (Blackberry-style small screen & physical keyboard) until iPhone showed everyone that full touch-screen was the way to go.

    I don't know if there's going to be another general computing paradigm in the foreseeable future after the hand-held pocket computer.

    Look, before the iPhone a lot of people, and by that I mean techies, pundits, science fiction writers, comic book authors, and even just regular folks, thought along the lines of "wouldn't it be just nice if we can have a device that we can carry around in our pocket that could do a lot of the things that a connected laptop does?"  There was more or less a consensus that a high-powered pocket computer was the next computing age do-it-all device.

    Nowadays, there's no such aspirational gadget.  There is no obvious and unanimous predicate to the statement "Wouldn't it be nice if we can have a device that ...?"

    Thing is, any such device has to be compatible with human cognitive and physical attributes.  It has to have a visual interface because that's our most highly developed sense, it has to be manipulable (because of the tool users' hands, fingers, and the concentration of nerve-endings therein), it can't be any smaller than a smartphone (in fact smartphones at one point overshot the ideal miniaturization level), and most important of all, it has to be able to take selfies.

    The pocket computer with built in screen will probably be it for a long time.  Just like the codex settled in for the long haul after it beat out the scroll as the best large-capacity format for the written word.  (Which doesn't mean you can't have connected peripherals like smart glasses, biosensors, and smart microdrones that constantly hover over you and monitor your personal space.)
    edited January 12 watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 18
    Someone should tell the author of the article that Apple did not design the PowerBook 100.  Apple asked Sony to design it, then they followed with the 140 and 170, matching the design.  And laptops were already saturated in the marketplace as a useful device that people wanted to use.

    Comparing phones and laptops to AR devices is just plain ridiculous.  AR is a very very small niche market.  Phones and laptops are general devices that all consumers have a use for.  No one cares about AR.  Look how popular 3D TV was.  That was a quick failure because no one wanted to wear special glasses to watch a movie.  No one is going to spend $3,000 for Apple's AR glasses, and that is the rumored starting price.  Apple is grasping at stuff at making products that people don't really want, but Apple thinks they do.  
  • Reply 13 of 18
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,950member
    AR's time is here, just with the wrong companies. People are going to be blown away by what they can do with VR tech, and Apple's approach to privacy and integration is going to make them a huge winner. For me, the ability to transport and use an elaborate workspace almost anywhere will be a key selling point. You like big screen monitors? How about as many as a half dozen of them that fit easily in your backpack, can be rearranged at will in space or discarded, and are usable while sitting, standing or laying down?
    edited January 13 watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 18
    I think AR/VR is cool, and I'm sure Apple can redefine what it should be, I just don't feel like this is the next big thing the way iPhone was in 2007. Maybe a car could do that, but idk...
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 18
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,017member
    tundraboy said:

    Thing is, any such device has to be compatible with human cognitive and physical attributes.  It has to have a visual interface because that's our most highly developed sense, it has to be manipulable (because of the tool users' hands, fingers, and the concentration of nerve-endings therein), it can't be any smaller than a smartphone (in fact smartphones at one point overshot the ideal miniaturization level), and most important of all, it has to be able to take selfies.

    First of all, excellent and very well articulated article by William.

    I've struggled to see where AR fits into the consumer space, beyond gaming and other forms of audio-visual escapism that will hopefully not result in extreme nausea. Tundraboy's comments captured my biggest concern - how the human brain will handle new massive sensory stimulation that may not follow behaviors that that exist in the real world, those things we've been wired through evolution and existence in a physical world as a physical being to accept as normal.

    I have no doubt that the human brain can adapt to AR because humans are able to pilot aircraft and exist in zero gravity environments that far exceed the boundaries of what humans sitting in a Starbucks sipping a latte consider normal human interaction with the real physical world. But just like pilots, extreme forms of AR will probably require some sort of "training" and adaptation to get the person using the new tool (or toy) effectively using it without "crashing," which in the gaming case may lead to a bucket hugging episode, but when involving physical processes like directing a real airborne or submersible drone, something much worse.

    I'm not anti-AR. I can easily envision a wide array of complex tasks that people have to perform today such as air traffic control, military combat system operations, drone piloting, complex oil/gas drilling operations, multi-modal regional traffic management, etc., that will likely be enhanced significantly by AR, and especially when some of the sensory and cognitive burden that AR can impose is offloaded from the user to AI assistants so the human at the controls is not overwhelmed but everything is still managed appropriately and nothing falls through the cracks but a human is still in the control loop. 

    Looking forward to seeing where Apple intends to take us with AR.
    edited January 13 pumpkin_kingwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 18
    People constantly texting while driving, family members and friends that are always looking at their screens, tens of millions of jobs that require looking at screens most of the day. To say there isn’t a massive potential market for AR / VR is just plain wrong. The trick will be in the UI and capability. Will Apple pull it off out of the gate? I doubt it but they’ll stick with it and iterate.

    The tech will get smaller, better and less expensive over time and Apple is laying the groundwork for a long term bet that they see as huge.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 18
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 5,218member
    People constantly texting while driving, family members and friends that are always looking at their screens, tens of millions of jobs that require looking at screens most of the day. To say there isn’t a massive potential market for AR / VR is just plain wrong. The trick will be in the UI and capability. Will Apple pull it off out of the gate? I doubt it but they’ll stick with it and iterate.

    The tech will get smaller, better and less expensive over time and Apple is laying the groundwork for a long term bet that they see as huge.
    Yeah you have to start somewhere...just look at the original iPhone and compare it to today's iPhone. Its similar in size but with a larger much higher res screen, way more powerful with some amazing new features. I'm sure its not gonna be spectacular but Apple at least lay the groundwork for the next gen, and the next, etc. Of course, some will unnecessarily have this very high expectation because it's Apple. 
    pumpkin_kingwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 18
    Yikes. Oculus isnt AR, it’s VR. They are not the same thing. 
    watto_cobra
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