Apple CEO Tim Cook believes augmented reality’s rise will be as “dramatic” as that of the App Store, but he doesn’t believe AR glasses or similar wearables are ready for the market yet, according to a sit-down interview with The Independent. Much of Cook’s interview focused on the prospects of augmented reality and Apple’s justification for making it a focus in both iOS and the iPhone 8.
He said this to The Independent:
Think back to 2008, when the App Store went live. There was the initial round of apps, and people looked at them and said, “this is not anything, mobile apps are not going to take off.” And then, step by step, things start to move. And it is sort of a curve, it was just exponential–and now you couldn’t imagine your life without apps. Your health is on one app, your financials, your shopping, your news, your entertainment–it’s everything. AR is like that. It will be that dramatic.
iOS 11, the latest software release for iPhones and iPads, included ARKit, a framework for developing augmented reality applications around the iPhone’s robust suite of sensors and cameras. It doesn’t enable anything that has never been done before in AR, but it is intended to greatly increase ease of development of AR applications for one of the most robust software markets in the world—the iOS App Store.
Because handsets as far back as the iPhone 6S are supported, smartly designed AR apps based on ARKit will find a large and mature market of consumers. Cook believes his company is providing a sort of garden for growing great AR ideas. He’s quoted saying: “The way that you get lots of great ideas is for us to do the heavy lifting of the complexity of locational things and software, and put those in the operating system… And then you have all the developers that are able to put their energy into their passion.” Cook also said that he believes day-to-day experiences like shopping will be “entirely” changed by AR.
Ars’ iPhone 8 review called it “the best mass-market AR platform we’ve yet seen.” But the best mass-market platform is not necessarily the most advanced. Even as many developers are creating AR apps for ARKit on iPhones or for Google’s ARCore platform, others are focused on platforms like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Windows Mixed Reality platform, which have some capabilities the iPhones don’t. Some of these competing concepts are worn like goggles over your eyes.
Cook didn’t address all of these technical differences in the interview, but he did talk about the prospects for AR goggles or glasses. He believes the tech isn’t ready:
The technology itself doesn’t exist to do that in a quality way. The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face–there [are] huge challenges with that. The field of view, the quality of the display itself—it’s not there yet.
Using HoloLens shows the potential of AR glasses, both in the sense of them being wearable and in the sense that HoloLens offers some technologies that aren’t yet on mass-market consumer phones—like better mapping of 3D assets over varied terrain rather than just flat surfaces. But at the same time, there are terrible limitations. HoloLens is bulky and unattractive. The field of view is pitifully small, breaking all potential immersion in what’s being displayed. Granted, things have moved forward a bit since HoloLens was introduced, but they haven’t moved that far.
But even with those limitations, it’s easy to conclude while trying HoloLens that wearables are where AR ultimately needs to go in the long run to achieve its full potential, despite the poor reception of the now ancient-seeming Google Glass concept. Holding up a phone just isn’t the same. But judging from Cook’s comments, Apple nevertheless believes the phone AR experience is enough for a revolution in its App Store. As attractive as the longterm vision of wearable AR might be to many, he’s probably not wrong.