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While Study Shows VR Taking Off—Apple Plans Indicate Augmented Reality (AR) Direction

Yes, VR is getting better known and 2017 will no doubt be a big year for virtual reality. But Apple seems to have other plans and in an ironic twist hopefully its AR plans can address industrial markets (not consumer) where Microsoft’s Hololens is making good traction.

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In a survey market study conducted in the first week of this new year, ReportLinker has stated that virtual reality (VR) devices and technology have shot up in awareness and brand identification by Americans. Nearly 2 out of 3 Americans have now heard of and know something about virtual reality (VR) devices, whereas back in September of last year, only roughly half of Americans did.

Chief findings in the study (see, Architosh, Report Says VR Awareness Rising—But Which Brands Surprise…,” 12 Jan 2017) indicate that awareness of VR devices and leading brands often doubled in some cases during the holiday quarter, with Samsung leading the pack of brands associated in the minds of Americans when it comes to VR headsets.

The VR Brands—Apple Not Included For A Reason

Sony, Oculus, Google, and HTC round out the VR brand pack. But prominently missing from this VR technology crowd is Apple. And for that matter Microsoft as well.

So what gives?

The two former archrivals in the desktop OS wars may be headed for a similar battle in the AR (augmented reality) space. Apple has already gone on record as saying that augmented reality (AR) looks more promising than virtual reality (VR). Moreover, Tim Cook has called AR “core technology” and believes that AR will be “bigger business” in the long run than VR.

01 - Apple's AR patents have ways into iPhones and other existing devices, not just AR glasses.

01 – Apple’s AR patents have ways into iPhones and other existing devices, not just AR glasses. But Apple has filed a patent for glasses as shown in the image below, in addition to this patent image. Image: US Patent Office.

A very similar set of statements were made by the highly respected former Apple executive, Richard Kerris, in an interview at Architosh last year. Long-term Apple fans will remember Kerris’ many appearances in Jobs’ keynotes back in the early and mid years of the last decade.

Kerris, whose career spans Apple, HP, and a chief technology officer role at Lucasfilm, said recently, “I don’t think VR will be as big as a lot of people seem to think it will be. I think Augmented Reality (AR) will have a much larger and more practical role.”

Apple’s Emerging AR Plans

Kerris’ statements reflect Cook’s own, including one where he referred to AR as “broad-based technology” whereas VR “has some interesting applications.

01 - Nobody knows for sure if Apple is truly working on AR glasses with Carl Ziess AG, but Apple did file patents for such glasses quite awhile ago.

02 – Nobody knows for sure if Apple is truly working on AR glasses with Carl Ziess AG, but Apple did file patents for such glasses quite awhile ago. Image: US Patent Office.

The latest news on Apple’s AR plans indicates the company is working on AR glasses with German lens manufacturer, Carl Zeiss. (see image 01). A report on Forbes states that Apple is primed to jump into the world of augmented reality in 2017. Veteran tech journalist Robert Scoble has stated on his Facebook page “A Zeiss employee confirmed the rumors that Apple and Carl Zeiss AG are working on a light pair of augmented reality/mixed reality glasses that may be announced this year.”

Such a product would put Apple in direct competition with Microsoft and its Hololens—another mixed reality or AR product which has been highly praised by both this publication and others. Apple, as we have reported on in the past, acquired Israel’s PrimeSense, a 3D sensing technology company and the folks behind Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect device.

Back in 2014, while reporting about Google’s Project Tango, we wondered when Apple would integrate PrimeSense technology into their iPads and iPhones, as another Israeli startup had similar tech in Google’s Project Tango device. But Apple’s real purpose for the PrimeSense acquisition may be aimed at its AR ambitions.

Regardless of these AR ambitions, Apple may have arrived late to the AR space. AppleInsider reported in March of 2015 that Apple was, in that time period, “fielding a small team tasked with experimental work in the AR space.” This March marks two years from that point. Apple needs to move faster. Microsoft already has a jump on Apple in AR and its Hololens has received significant attention in industrial professional markets—particularly those with strong connections to where Apple’s iPad is quite strong, like the global building industry.

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