Ap­ple’s next big leap might be into ‘aug­mented re­al­ity’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - Q&A WITH CEO -

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Ap­ple Inc’s iPhone may be ready for its next act as a spring­board into “aug­mented re­al­ity.”

The tech­nol­ogy projects life-like im­ages into re­al­world set­tings viewed through a screen.

If you’ve heard about AR at all, it’s most likely be­cause you’ve en­coun­tered Poke­mon Go, in which play­ers wan­der around neigh­bor­hoods try­ing to cap­ture mon­sters only they can see on their phones.

AR is also mak­ing its way into ed­u­ca­tion and some in­dus­trial ap­pli­ca­tions, such as prod­uct assem­bly and ware­house in­ven­tory man­age­ment.

Now Ap­ple is hop­ing to trans­form the tech­nol­ogy from a geeky sideshow into a mass-mar­ket phe­nom­e­non.

It’s em­bed­ding AR-ready tech­nol­ogy into its iPhones later this year, po­ten­tially set­ting the stage for a rush of new apps that blur the line be­tween re­al­ity and dig­i­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in new and imag­i­na­tive ways.

“This is one of those huge things that we’ ll look back at and marvel about the start of it,” Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook told an­a­lysts.

Many an­a­lysts agree. “This is the most im­por­tant plat­form that Ap­ple has cre­ated since the app store in 2008,” said Jan Daw­son of Jack­daw Re­search.

There is just one catch — no one can yet point to a killer app for AR, at least be­yond the year-old, and fad­ing, fad of Poke­mon Go.

In­stead, an­a­lysts ar­gue more gen­er­ally that AR cre­ates enor­mous po­ten­tial for new games, home-re­mod­el­ing apps that let you vi­su­al­ize new fur­nish­ings and decor in an ex­ist­ing room, ed­u­ca­tion, health­care and more.

For the mo­ment, though, we are ba­si­cally stuck with demos cre­ated by de­vel­op­ers.

Th­ese in­clude a Star Wars­like droid rolling past a dog that doesn’t re­al­ize it is there, a dig­i­tal replica of Hous­ton on a ta­ble and a vir­tual tour of Vin­cent Van Gogh’s bed­room .

At Ap­ple, the in­tro­duc­tion of AR gets un­der­way in Septem­ber with the re­lease of iOS 11, the next ver­sion of the op­er­at­ing sys­tem that pow­ers hun­dreds of mil­lions of iPhones and iPads around the world.

Tucked away in that re­lease is an AR tool­kit in­tended to help soft­ware de­vel­op­ers cre­ate new apps. But they will not work on just any Ap­ple de­vice, only the iPhone 6S and later mod­els, in­clud­ing the hotly an­tic­i­pated nextgen­er­a­tion model that Ap­ple will re­lease this fall.

Ap­ple, of course, is not the only com­pany bet­ting big on AR. Mark Zucker­berg, founder of Face­book, talked up the tech­nol­ogy at a com­pany pre­sen­ta­tion in April.

He called it a “re­ally im­por­tant tech­nolog y that changes how we use our phones”. Ap­ple ri­vals such as G oogle and Mi­crosof Corp are also star ting to de­ploy AR sys­tems.

Ap­ple has been look­ing for some­thing to lessen its de­pen­dence on the iPhone since the 2011 death of its Co-Founder and CEO Steve Jobs, the driv­ing force be­hind the com­pany’s in­no­va­tion fac­tory.

Cook thought he had come up with a rev­o­lu­tion­ary prod­uct when Ap­ple be­gan sell­ing its smart­watch i n 2015, but it re­mains a niche prod­uct.

For now, the iPhone re­mains the com­pany’s dom­i­nant de­vice, ac­count­ing for 55 per­cent of Ap­ple’s $45.4 bil­lion in rev­enue dur­ing the three months which ended in June.

The to­tal rev­enue rep­re­sented a 7 per­cent in­crease from the same time last year. Ap­ple earned $8.7 bil­lion, up 12 per­cent from last year.

Tim Merel, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of tech­nol­ogy con­sult­ing firm Digi-Cap­i­tal, be­lieves Ap­ple’s en­try into AR will cat­alyze the field. His firm ex­pects AR to mush­room into an $83 bil­lion mar­ket by 2021, up from $1.2 bil­lion last year.

That es­ti­mate as­sumes that Ap­ple and its ri­vals will ex­pand be­yond AR soft­ware to high-tech glasses and other de­vices, such as Mi­crosoft’s HoloLens head­set.

For now, though, noth­ing ap­pears bet­ter suited for in­ter­act­ing with AR than the smart­phone.

Google al­ready makes AR soft­ware called Tango that made its de­but on one Len­ovo Group Ltd smart­phone last year and will be part of an­other high-end de­vice from AsusTek Com­puter Inc this month.

But it will be years be­fore Tango phones are as widely used as iPhones, or for that mat­ter, iPads. Most of those de­vices are ex­pected to be­come AR-ready when the free iOS 11 up­date hits next month.

Nearly 90 per­cent of Ap­ple de­vices pow­ered by iOS typ­i­cally in­stall the new soft­ware ver­sion when it comes out. As­sum­ing that pat­tern holds true this fall, that will bring AR to about 300 mil­lion Ap­ple de­vices that are al­ready in peo­ple’s hands.

If the new soft­ware wins over more AR fans as Ap­ple hopes, an­a­lysts fig­ure that the com­pany will be­gin build­ing AR-spe­cific de­vices, too.

One ob­vi­ous pos­si­bil­ity might be some kind of AR glasses teth­ered to the iPhone.

This would al­low peo­ple to ob­serve dig­i­tal re­al­ity with­out hav­ing to look “through” a phone.

Once tech­nol­ogy al­lows, a stand­alone head­set could ren­der the iPhone un­nec­es­sary, at least for many ap­pli­ca­tions.

Such a de­vice could ul­ti­mately sup­plant the iPhone, although that isn’t likely to hap­pen for five to 10 years, even by the most op­ti­mistic es­ti­mates.

This is one of those huge things that we’ll look back and marvel about the start of it.” Tim Cook, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at Ap­ple

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