How Tim Cook's Augmented Reality vision paid off for Apple

Apple chose AR to sell high-end hardware and attract developers to iOS. Here’s why Apple’s AR vision uniquely succeeded despite opposition, opposition, and competitive ideas – and why Google and its Android partners failed.

The unexpected 5-year failure of the VR smartphone

As detailed in the previous segment, the concept of smartphone VR – introduced by Google’s Cardboard initiative in 2014 – has already been widely hailed by tech media as the “next big thing” in mobile. The box became Android Daydream VR and induced parallel development by Samsung and Facebook to support the more sophisticated Gear VR platform.

Yet in just five years, Google, Samsung, Facebook, and all those who jumped on the “ cardboard train ” of smartphone VR have given up their efforts and abandoned support for customers who bought their VR products. for mobile phones. Along the way, none of the people involved made any significant profit thanks to VR on smartphones.

Various virtual reality efforts have also not led a significant number of buyers to high-end smartphone hardware. Instead, Google’s VR-y Pixel phones languished only as a hobby flop.

Unit sales of high-end headlights and phablets, compatible with Samsung’s Galaxy VR, also declined laterally, the company refocusing publicly on promoting sales of its cheaper mid-range A phones.

Samsung bet big on VR smartphone and failed

Telephone VR ended up being an embarrassing and unmitigating business disaster worse than even 3DTV or 3D phones. With a few exceptions, tech media editors and analysts in the mid-2010s completely failed to predict how much VR would serve the mobile industry and its investors.

The unexpected success of the AR smartphone

While tech media figures massively applauded phone-based VR until it was abandoned by its main supporters last year, there was less excitement and control over AR, in particular. Apple.

This is somewhat remarkable, as Google, Samsung and Facebook have all failed many of their initiatives in mobile – especially in new hardware – while Apple has maintained a solid track record of delivering material hits, with only a few rare misfires with minor initiatives such as iTunes Ping and iAd.

In 2016, Apple CEO Tim Cook regularly took the rather unusual step of confidently commenting on the future of new technologies, frequently sharing his views on augmented and virtual reality, at least in general terms. In August of this year, Cook said in Washington that he thought augmented reality was “extremely interesting and some kind of basic technology”.

In September Cook said in an interview with ABC News, “There is virtual reality and augmented reality – both are incredibly interesting, but my opinion is that augmented reality is the greater of the two, probably by far. ”

Tim Cook AR

In October, Cook once again touted the benefits of augmented versus virtual reality, stating “There is no substitute for human contact, so you want technology to encourage that.”

The following February, Cook again pitted the two technologies in an interview with The Independent, saying that the VR headset by nature had only niche appeal because it “closes the world” in a dissociated experience, while stating than AR as the basic technology promised to benefit a much wider audience.

Cook even claimed that AR could be as important as the smartphone itself. “I think the AR is so big, it’s huge,” said Cook. “I’m excited about the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives – and be fun.”

Unpopular hold of Cook on AR

Cook’s representation of the relative merits of augmented reality and virtual reality as perceived technologies within Apple was actually the opposite of most other companies. Facebook and its content partners saw the development of VR experiences as a great opportunity, with less appreciation for what AR could offer.

Without its own successful phone operating system, Samsung has also relied heavily on virtual reality because it could provide Galaxy VR hardware itself. To provide an AR phone product, Samsung should coordinate closely with Google, relying on its leadership of Android as a platform.

This is something Samsung had sharpened after collaborating with the Galaxy Nexus 2011 with Google. Samsung even attempted to launch Tizen as its own operating system to replace Android in 2012, and in 2014 it used Tizen to power its Galaxy Gear. A year later, he used Tizen, not Android, to power his smart TVs.

He was not looking to increase his dependence on Google’s Android in future hardware, which helped to dampen interest in the AR collaboration.

Microsoft also didn’t have a powerful mobile platform to use to promote AR like Apple. He launched HoloLens as a stand-alone project to provide various technologies related to augmented reality and virtual reality. However, HoloLens remained so isolated from reality and the consumer market that Microsoft did not have to take a coherent strategic position as Cook had been with AR.

Microsoft could promise everything while delivering very little. He even renamed the world around him by referring to various technologies under the name of “mixed reality”.

So a big part of the reason that Apple was the only one to tout AR was that it was the only company capable of delivering it on a large scale in a way that could have a significant business impact. While some sort of VR was possible even at the easy Cardboard level, providing functional AR would require a much bigger and more sophisticated technological leap, as well as tight integration between the different hardware and software layers.

AR technology

Apple details AR as requiring deep hardware and operating system integration

VR offers the user an immersive experience of computer generated graphics that are wrapped around them. AR requires additional technology to convincingly anchor a virtual world above the existing world. “Augmented reality” is literally an increase in reality with virtual, so virtual reality is actually a subset of augmented reality technologies.

But it’s not the number of people in the tech industry who have seen it. Instead, experts and analysts have often spoken of VR as a clearly exciting technology that was easy to demonstrate, while speaking of AR as a less impressive concept that would be more difficult to sell to consumers as valuable and desirable.

Google, however, knew this. In 2014, she started working publicly in both areas: alongside her Cardboard VR project which was originally a side project for employees, the company also launched Project Tango, its independent effort to develop a platform AR. Tango was born in Google’s advanced technology labs as a serious research project, not just a hobby.

Cardboard / Daydream VR and Tango AR have continued at Google for the next few years with the participation of various Android partners, but neither has resulted in much more than experimental small-scale DIY. Google Tango was the first to market many parts of the AR technology puzzle, but failed to convert its advantage into a salable product.

Apple unveils AR to the masses

Three years after Google launched Tango, Apple unveiled ARKit at WWDC17, opening its new AR platform to developers with an addressable installed base of hundreds of millions of iOS 11 users. It could immediately boast of having launched the world’s largest AR platform. Later that year, he launched the new $ 999 iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus, both of which included the company’s new portrait lighting effects.

In the three years since, however, experts and analysts have hardly understood what was going on. In March, Lucas Matney wrote a confusing and dark version of the prospects for Apple’s AR in a TechCrunch titled “Can Apple Keep the AR Industry Alive?”

Ikea AR
While Clickable Bait Generators Worried About Apple “Keeping Augmented Reality”, Developers Like IKEA Deployed Commercially Relevant AR Apps

He suggested that the only thing behind AR was “Apple’s enthusiasm,” stating that “the company’s ARKit development platform has revealed interesting use cases, but app developers have won little. resounding victories ”. TechCrunch complained that Apple “had been slow to integrate AR functionality into its own inventory applications” and that “consumers just don’t see what they want right now”.

It was not an unpopular opinion. Many industry observers seem to think that the only AR application launched by Apple to date is Measure, the application that uses ARKit’s visual inertial odometry to estimate the dimensions of real-world objects. And of course, while being criticized for providing ARKit as a platform that largely delegates the development of AR applications to third parties, Apple also took the risk of daring to publish Measure because it infringed on the potential of third parties to sell their own AR measurement applications.

The alternative reality of technological media

However, between 2017 and 2020, Apple sold hundreds of millions of its high-end iPhones – each year – at an average selling price of almost $ 800. The most popular iPhone of 2018 was Apple’s new iPhone X, followed by its replacement for iPhone XR next year, and then iPhone 11 this year. In addition, Apple also sold millions of ultra-premium iPhone XS, then iPhone 11 Pro models, also in volumes that no other Android manufacturer even approached the sale with its own high-end flagship products. .

Year after year, Apple has inhaled almost all of the revenue from high-end phones, increasing its profits to a scale that no other handset company could touch. Something magically separated iPhones from basic Androids.

Beyond Apple’s brand and reputation, it seemed to be the App Store and iOS, although experts insisted that apps didn’t matter either. They explained that Android has many apps and said that in China, nobody was using more apps because of WeChat.

Experts were so short of answers about why Apple was still in business that they began to announce that the reality that everyone was watching was simply false. The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and the Japanese magazine Nikkei Asian Review have regularly reported to their audiences that the iPhone X is a “disappointing” product, “too expensive” with “low” sales, and that consumers do not were certainly not at all excited about it.

It bizarrely continued the following year, when Yoko Kubota and Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal described Apple’s hugely popular iPhone XR as “The phone that Apple lacks” and “The best iPhone that Apple can’t sell “.

Apple innovation

Exciting “innovation” is not one of all the hardware problems Apple faces

At the same time, Kara Swisher of Recode appeared on CNBC to promote the idea that Apple had an “innovation problem”, saying that “the cycle of innovation has slowed down at Apple. Where is their new product exciting, and where are their exciting new entrepreneurs in this business? ”

The weirdest thing is that these journalists were all very well aware of the “exciting” products that Apple presented and the talent that the company recruited. They were invited to Apple events, received simple technology overviews, and even wrote about notable hires related to Apple’s AR at the same time.

In 2017, Mark Gurman wrote a report for Bloomberg detailing various industry researchers that Apple had recruited to work on AR under the title “Apple’s Next Big Thing: Augmented Reality”.

All these journalists should have seized the power of the RA. After all, they were all augmenting reality with their own fantastic virtual world that they had created on their computers and projected into the views of their audience.

AR Software sells systems

Certainly the preference for Apple iPhones among affluent buyers, even at a high price, was the result of many factors. But one notable feature that has boosted sales of Apple’s best iPhones in the past three years is the very thing TechCrunch recently said was a slow and difficult endeavor with an uncertain future: augmented reality.

Computer photography undoubtedly stimulates sales of high-end smartphones; the ability to take flattering selfies and portraits is extremely popular with buyers. Apple’s most notable camera in 2017 was portrait lighting, as well as the new TrueDepth effects from the iPhone X that enabled photorealistic effects in third-party apps such as Snapchat.

These two examples are actually examples of augmented reality, developed using Apple’s ARKit development tools.

Apple has placed its AR Portrait Lighting functionality at the heart of the marketing of its iPhone

So, rather than deploying AR and defeating it for five years without accomplishing anything, Apple provided attractive functionality using AR that immediately helped it sell its most expensive iPhone of all time to an enthusiastic audience. globally – before the public realized they were even using AR.

Note that it happened in the same year that Samsung struggled to sell its Galaxy S9 with or without Gear VR, after four generations of Gear VR trying to establish a reason for Android buyers to opt for Samsung, and in particular one of its high-end models.

Cook was right: AR was already having an immediate and meaningful impact on smartphones in ways that VR over the phone had failed to achieve over the years. And while John Carmack of Facebook’s Oculus group has retrospectively explained that the friction of using Gear VR has prevented smartphone users from staying involved in VR experiences more than once or twice on average, the simple benefits and Attractive features like Portrait Lighting were regularly used on iPhones.

AR has helped contribute to Apple’s computer photography features in a way that has blunted Google’s targeted attack by pushing its own sophisticated AI-based camera features on its Pixel phones. This gave Apple the ability to match and enhance Google’s own innovative night mode functionality before Google could copy Apple’s AR-based portrait lighting features.

This is even more remarkable considering that Google was working on its own version of RA in public, with industry collaborations, for several years before Apple presented Portrait Lighting or its ARKit development tools.

And rather than being overlooked by third-party developers as TechCrunch has implied, Apple’s ARKit has opened up significant new opportunities ranging from video games to business markets, with particular success in education and online sales. Last year at WWDC19, Apple’s ARKit 3.0 brought Microsoft on stage to demonstrate Minecraft Earth playing in AR with the new People Occlusion feature.

Microsoft’s Minecraft Earth presented ARkit

Apple did use AR to support sales of high-end iPhones at a time when it was apparently “common sense” that nobody paid $ 999 for a phone, and certainly not when there were cheap Androids . Cook has also masterfully positioned AR as his personal vision and has successfully delivered a massive home run with AR even though his main rivals have failed to do much with AR, “Mixed Reality” or VR. Apple’s work has also embarrassed experts and analysts who have tried to advance their careers by describing the company as “running out of innovation.”

But Apple’s long-term targeted investments in AR have also accomplished something else, as the next segment will detail.

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