The iPhone can certainly make a claim for the most impactful technology of the last decade. Released 10 years ago, the miniature mobile computer changed the way humans live their lives at a foundational level. It’s neigh unthinkable to exist without a smartphone in today’s day and age. People check their phones at an alarming rate. Most people feel legitimate anxiety when they’re without theirs for any period of time, much less an extended one. They’re our windows to the world, and we feel naked without ours.
Interestingly, the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone; it wasn’t the first touch interface; it didn’t have the first app store… the list goes on. But, it put everything you could (realistically) want in a package small enough to take with you, with an uber-intuitive user interface and sleek and desirable design. It made a gadget cool in a way we could not yet envision. And it put everything you’d want in the palm of your hand. All your music. Your phone. Your email. The internet. Messaging. Everything was now quite literally a touch away. It not only changed the fortunes of the world’s most valuable company, it changed the course of human history.
Which has some analysts asking… “Well Apple… what’s next?”
I don’t care how baked into your corporate culture innovation, design excellence, and always pleasing your consumer might be. It’s no easy feat to follow the invention that maybe more than anything else shaped our modern world. But, some are saying Apple has its sights set on a target, and may be closer to achieving it than we realize:
Virtual reality is a cool concept that may very well grow in market adoption within the gaming community, high-end cinephiles, etc., but the need to be physically immersed in the environment may limit its long-term adoptability. Augmented reality, on the other hand, is about overlaying a digital layer of information and interaction with the real-life environment in which you move.
Imagine walking into a grocery store, and your glasses act as a heads up display, and promotions and nutritional information appears above each item you’re considering. Or when you’re driving, you have accurate speed limits updated in real time fed to your glasses so you always know the speed zone in which you’re traveling. Maybe you’re walking from lunch to a meeting in New York and you want turn-by-turn directions you can see without staring down at your phone? Having a digital display native to your field of vision could be a real game changer in so many use cases like these (and so many more). Apple may be making major moves in that area.
Joe McGauley at Thrillist wrote a great article making this case. In it, he presents the possible stakes in the AR sweepstakes:
Augmented reality is going to fundamentally change our expectations of what information is available, and where.
With the unveiling of ARKit — its proprietary AR software platform that makes it very easy for mobile developers of all levels to integrate AR into iOS apps — it’s clear that Apple understands this. It also knows what’s at stake: The race is on to develop the ecosystem of devices and software that makes AR easy and cool for us all to use. And whoever wins the AR race wins big — like iPhone big…
And summaries some Apple-centric happenings of the past few months/years:
…Tim Cook jubilantly acknowledges that augmented reality is the future, and the company has poached top talent from the likes of AR-centric companies like Oculus and Magic Leap. But what precisely “the future” means in real terms remains something of a mystery, and where there’s mystery, there are rumors.
Rumors of Apple’s Next Big Thing being augmented-reality eyewear have been floating around for months, thanks to a few well-placed sources who have all but confirmed that the company is hard at work testing them out…
…One renowned Apple analyst has even gone on record claiming that Apple Glasses will be bigger than the iPhone…
…What’s more, in the last few years, Apple has acquired a number of AR-centric apps and software startups, and built a team of hundreds of augmented and virtual-reality researchers, a signal that it’s been prepping for something like this for some time…
Now, do these things definitively show AR is Apple’s “Next Big Thing” or just another project in the massive Apple R&D pipeline? It’s definitely too early to tell. But, there’s an awwwwwful lot of smoke swirling around AR at Apple, and it’d be silly not to conclude there’s at least some modicum of fire there. The possibilities behind Apple-powered glasses to transform the way we interact with our world (yet again) could very well reach iPhone levels of impact. Or Apple might never roll it out, and all this excitement was for naught. However, this field of technology is not going away. In fact, it’s only going to continue to grow and mature in the coming months and years, and it’s certainly one to keep a weather eye on.