Apple’s successor to the iPhone makes an appearance
Meta Platforms, as Facebook’s parent is now known, focuses on an alternative to our current reality, in which we can disappear onto our couch. Apple is raising the stakes with what analysts say are plans for a headset or smart glasses that will provide access to a layer of information, objects, and data spread across our view of the real world like pixie dust. digital – a so-called augmented reality, or AR. While the company has not disclosed its plans, analysts and other industry insiders expect Apple’s first AR device to be announced by the end of 2022.
CEO Tim Cook has been talking about augmented reality for so long it’s easy to forget how important it could be to Apple and to the entire tech industry. Depending on which expert you are listening to, AR is either intended to be an additional means of accessing the internet or it will completely encompass our experience and be an essential gateway to the metaverse that so many companies claim to be building right now. Either way, the impact of an AR headset and its market could be huge, and several factors, from its growing prowess in microchip development to its army of loyal app developers, suggest that Apple is ideally positioned to create a divide around its AR business. quite quickly, as with the iPhone.
Of course, other companies have also released or will soon reveal a surprising variety of similar face-based computers. Microsoft has perhaps the most successful AR device to date with its HoloLens 2 headset, despite weighing 1.25 pounds, starting at $ 3,500, and completely focused on business customers. The company has the consumer in mind, at least in the future. Ultimately, Microsoft’s headsets “will be more immersive, more affordable, and come in more socially acceptable form factors,” says Alex Kipman, an engineer who works in mixed reality at Microsoft.
These headsets are part of a larger phenomenon known collectively as “space computing,” and it has the potential to be the next most important thing after the smartphone. by Meta’s Oculus brand that completely immerses people in the virtual world; augmented reality and “mixed reality” headsets that add cameras and can convey a view of the outside world to the wearer; and lightweight “smart glasses” that look more or less like glasses, but can project information into a person’s sight, something like a more evolved version of the original (and failed) Google Glass.
Apple, however, will bring unique benefits to its alternate reality game that could quickly push it past those that were on the market earlier.
First of all, any Apple headset is almost certainly built around Apple’s in-house chips, which are now by some benchmarks unmatched in performance for mobile devices by the all-important measure of performance per watt – in big, the computing power you can get out of a battery charge.
This is a huge advantage for overcoming the physical limitations that have constrained other AR devices like the bulky and not exactly sleek HoloLens from Microsoft or another equally bulky one from a startup called Magic Leap, says Mike Boland, analyst at ARtillery. Intelligence, a study company specializing in space computing.
In addition, Apple’s existing product ecosystem gives some impetus to its bet that augmented reality has the potential to be more accessible than virtual reality to more people. AR devices could display information like navigation tips, message alerts, and even video chats on transparent lenses in a way that makes them useful – and also, arguably, somewhat frightening. Apple has become the ‘where you are’ company with its mobile and portable devices, and has shown that this is the way most people prefer to interact with devices, most of the time, rather than to disappear into fully immersive VR technology Meta has defended.
Right now, the ability to overlay the world with a heads-up display that puts directions, messages, video chats, and whatever else we do on our phones right in our line of sight may not seem so compelling.
The virtual reality headset market is still relatively small, in the tens of millions of units sold each year, but the eyewear market is worth $ 150 billion a year, says Boland. If anyone can pull off some reasonably stylish “smart glasses” that offer enough functionality from a HoloLens or Magic Leap headset, it’s Apple, he adds.
Small businesses that are far from technological resources or Apple’s influence in the market have made progress on similar projects that demonstrate the concept. Vuzix, an AR headset company founded in 1997, recently unveiled its latest and most stylish smart glasses, the Vuzix Shields. They’re still bulky compared to larger glasses – the battery, computer, cameras, and screen projector all need to be crammed into the temples of the glasses – but they’re designed to be worn all day and are designed to be worn all day. based on decades of Vuzix experience. creating AR headsets for businesses and the Department of Defense, says CEO Paul Travers.
Snapchat parent Snap earlier this year added AR features to the latest version of its Spectacles smart glasses, which are so far only available to developers. Niantic, the Google spin-out known for its hit AR game “Pokémon Go,” is also working on a pair of lightweight smart glasses. Niantic’s first smart glasses will be a “full AR device” capable of creating the illusion of objects in the world around the user, says CEO John Hanke.
Achieving full augmented reality in a lightweight, wearable device is a technical challenge that has conquered all comers, but it won’t be forever, says Hugo Swart, vice president of XR and Metaverse at Qualcomm. (“XR” is an industry term that encompasses augmented, mixed, and virtual reality.) In 10 years we will be close to the “holy grail” of augmented reality glasses that are both light enough for prolonged, everyday use. , and as capable as today’s bulky AR and VR headsets, he adds.
Mr. Swart has a unique perspective on the industry, as he oversees the Qualcomm division that supplies the microchips that power devices, including Meta’s latest Oculus Quest 2 headset, Vuzix’s Shield goggles, HoloLens 2 from Microsoft and Niantic’s next device, among others.
Mr Swart believes a solution for AR is to have a lot of the required computing happen on a device everyone already has (their smartphone) and connect to the headset through the new one. 6th Wi-Fi standard. This could allow a fast, high bandwidth connection between the two, allowing the phone to do most of the processing work.
Hanke says Niantic and other companies are working on such solutions, in order to bring full augmented reality to a glasses-like form factor. “Doing this means a good amount of mass and heat dissipation that doesn’t need to be on your head anymore,” he adds.
This approach would also play on Apple’s strengths, given the popularity of the iPhone. And, if Apple chooses to offload much of the processing needed on the iPhone to keep its smart glasses slim, it could further strengthen the iPhone as a dominant mobile device in many markets, Boland said. ‘analyst. As the growth in demand for smartphones slows, Apple’s strategy has been to sell more and more accessories, like watches and headphones, and the addition of smart glasses to this growing list is definitely worth it. logical, he adds.
Whether or not people adopt smart glasses, regardless of their form factor, is a challenge of design and culture. “People just hate the things on their faces, frankly,” says Vuzix’s Mr. Travers. As the world has seen with the backlash against the original Google Glass, and the mixed feelings critics have expressed about more recent efforts, like Meta’s collaboration with Ray Ban to put cameras in sunglasses. , asking people to put a computer on their face is a far cry from asking them to wear a slick, smooth plate of glass and metal that can disappear into a purse or pocket.
This is where another of Apple’s advantages can impact: its ability to market its devices and for those devices to market themselves. The company is adept at creating material that inspires FOMO, an acronym for “fear of missing out”.
If Meta succeeds in creating a software-based metaverse, but Apple headsets become the best and most popular way to access it, it wouldn’t be the first time that Apple devices have been the primary vehicle for users of the Internet. ‘access Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, all of which are of course massively popular on the iPhone.
Some AR proponents believe the FOMO-inducing killer app for space computing might be a game. But, as with the smartphone, whose killer app turned out to be plenty of apps, all made possible by the mobile internet access, there may not be a single driver for smart glasses adoption. “I think it’s going to be about making everything you do on your phone today easier, less intrusive and more natural to access, presenting them in a contextual way as you move around the world,” says Mr. Hanke.
There are still a lot of uncertainties about AR. Apple’s headphone sales may never be much larger than its watch business – a big business by any objective standard, but a fraction of the total revenue of what is intermittently the most important company. most valuable in the world.
But it’s also possible that augmented reality and the wider phenomenon of space computing may be, as some would like, the natural successor to the PC and smartphone. In this case, the battle between Facebook, Apple, Google, and hundreds of other companies over who will supply which parts of this future is only just beginning.
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