Of all the rumored additions Apple is said to be bringing to the iPhone 8, few are as intriguing as augmented reality. Apple CEO Tim Cook has called AR a “core technology” prompting many analysts and journalists to speculate on how it might utilize AR functionality in its devices. Apple has built a team combining the strengths of its hardware and software veterans with the expertise of talented outsiders. Apple has also acquired several small firms with knowledge of AR hardware, 3D gaming and virtual reality software. It has hundreds of engineers on the project, some of which previously worked on Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s HoloLens headset.
According to Bloomberg, Apple is working on several AR products, including digital spectacles that could connect wirelessly to an iPhone and beam content—movies, maps and more—to the wearer. While the glasses are a ways off, AR features could show up in the iPhone sooner. While discrete AR devices are likely at least a year away, we could see several AR features on an iPhone before the end of the year.
It’s an auspicious moment for Apple to move into augmented reality. The global market for AR products will surge 80 percent to $165 billion by 2024, according to researcher Global Market Insights. Augmented reality is the less known cousin of virtual reality. VR gets more attention because it completely immerses users in an artificial world and has an obvious attraction for gamers. So far, however, headsets like the Oculus and HoloLens are niche rather than mainstream products. Apple believes AR will be an easier sell because it’s less intrusive. Referring to VR headsets, Cook last year said he thought few people will want to be enclosed in something.
Building a successful AR product will be no easy task, even for a company known for slim, sturdy devices. The current crop of AR glasses are either under-powered and flimsy or powerful and overwhelmingly large. Apple, the king of thin and light, will have to leapfrog current products by launching something small and powerful.
Apple has had its hits and misses with hardware over the past several years, but with all the talent it has brought on board and companies it has acquired to bring its AR ambitions to life, it’s clear that Apple expects AR to be a major part of its future. So let’s hope we don’t have another Google Glass on our hands.
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