Will AR be Short for “Apple Reality”?

Since the last Tom Cook interview tour promoting the Apple brand, we know that he likes AR as in ‘Augmented Reality’ better than VR (Virtual Reality). It comes as no surprise that he didn’t mention the third category, Mixed Reality (MR) in his vision.

In short, he and Apple are convinced that AR will have a great business future in the business world as well as with consumers. This also means that he sees AR surpassing VR in the long run. At the same time he was also pushing the message that the current status of the necessary underlying technology is nowhere near ready to make AR a reality at a quality level that consumers will accept. This is very much in line with the Apple philosophy of only releasing products that meet or exceed the consumer’s expectations. This is really the basis of Apple’s success in the market today.

Since his tour, speculation about Apple’s plan for an AR headset has been running wild. They are nothing short of wild imagination paired with wishful thinking. Let us take a more realistic look at Apple’s involvement in AR in coming years.

AR is better than VR

Tim Cook’s position on AR versus VR is more of a long term outlook. At the current time, VR is leading the way in all types of ‘reality’. Most of it is aimed at gaming in the consumer space, which makes the most sense for now. Of course there are many more applications explored, but these are more for the B2B environment. Any time you want to do something that is difficult to obtain, like climbing Mount Everest or visit the inside of a submarine, VR offers a very cost effective and safe alternative.

Now, here is the catch; while I can see how a good VR app could replace certain business travel, especially if the connectivity is very fast, I just can’t see how a VR app can replace leisure travel to Paris. It’s better than a documentary, but not even close to the real thing. Just imagine visiting Paris on your VR headset but then going out and eating at your local pizza joint. AR would work when you visit Paris in reality, but translates all the fancy announcements in case your French is a little rusty, and shows you the best way to the highest rated restaurant you dare to afford. That’s very different from a VR experience.

In the business world, I see good applications for both technologies. AR applications are good for industrial applications such as maintenance, repairs, installation, packaging, logistics and the like, while VR is better suited for design, visualization and training applications. While the current quality level in VR hardware is somewhat ahead of AR (mostly driven by gaming requirements), they address very different applications and will have very different adoption rates based on the respective hardware performance.

AR will be much larger than VR

So far, all market forecasts are more or less overly optimistic and have been reset every year, after sales targets were not met. Forecasting the growth of a new technology is a special form of gambling where the stakes are low for the forecasting company but very high for the start-up companies developing such technology. A high forecast helps in all funding activities. The higher the forecast the better the funding perspectives.

When an established figure like Tim Cook says he believes in this technology, forecast figures go up immediately; nevertheless, this does not make the forecast number any more real.

On the other hand we have to make sure that we distinguish AR from AR-headsets. AR includes all mobile devices such as smartphone and tablets (so far such AR hardware sales without headsets are not included in any forecast), as well as the content created for it. This is happening now and with Apple pushing AR on the smartphone for now, we be can be sure that between Apple and Android devices the software and content side will create significant results within the coming year.

Focusing on the hardware side, it will take much more time for the AR headset to become a major contributor to AR segment sales.

Apple is working on an AR headset

In all honesty, I believe every consumer electronics company has been working on an AR headset since Google announced Google Glass many years ago. It is also very interesting to see that, so far, nobody has had the courage to release a product after Google pulled their consumer product of the market. The latest news from Bloomberg (“Apple Is Ramping Up Work on AR Headset to Succeed iPhone”) and The Verge ( “Apple reportedly readying standalone AR headset for 2019”) suggests that Apple will be releasing an AR headset in the 2019 to 2020 time frame. With 2017 coming to an end pretty soon, this seems to be a very close indeed. Tim Cook’s words that “no quality technologies exist to create such a headset any time soon” seem to contradict these statements. On the other hand, Apple may be trying to mislead the industry to buy some more time for the Apple development team.

I should mention that these reports are at least partially based on a statement by an Apple supplier (Quanta Computer) that they are working on an AR headset for a customer. They have not said that this customer is Apple, so this AR headset connection was never confirmed by either company.

I personally believe that Tim Cook just spoke the truth. Technology to create a very good AR headset is still in the R&D labs at the moment. This goes back to material development, indicating to me that a really good AR headset is years away from becoming a reality.

Another aspect that both reports cover is their belief that Apple is working on new operating system called “rOS” that will run such headset. While this makes a lot of sense, without knowing what the hardware is capable of it seems difficult to develop an OS to run such hardware effectively. Nevertheless, AR and VR maybe the next place for an OS war. Microsoft lost out in the mobile space, maybe they will focus more effort in this space going forward.

AR sensor development

Another hot topic is the report by PC Magazine (“Report: Apple Developing AR 3D Sensor for 2019 iPhone”) about a new 3D sensor development. This sensor is reportedly for the back of the phone and creates a depth map of the room in front. This allows the user to place augmented reality material much more realistically in a room than before. in other words any augmented reality object will not occupy the same space as real objects in the room. This is a really good idea, but again are they developing the sensor today for the iPhone release in 2019? My guess is that the iPhone 2019 specs are already written down, even they though still in flux. This time suggestion reminds me of the forecasts of when Apple would introduce OLED displays into their iPhone line up. Let’s just say they nailed the decade!

All in all, Apple has to secure a place in the A-M-V/R space if they want to create more growth potential for Apple in the future. In this sense Tim Cook may want to look at the AR acronym as ‘Apple Reality’. They cannot afford to fall behind in another technology after not pursuing the internet of things (at least so far) even after they had been leading the core technology of the voice machine interface. (NH)