While Google, Facebook, Samsung, Sony, HTC, Valve, Microsoft, Epson and many others have been toying and testing with virtual reality and augmented reality for the past few years, Apple only has a new ViewMaster slot in their store to show for their participation in the recent VR craze. Apple is really late to the game, we can all agree upon that, but one could argue that it was just as late to the wearable game – still managing to make a first edition product a huge success, despite its lack of actual practical use. Apple fans who don’t like criticism should click away and choose another Apple-related post instead, one that’s not as acidic as this one. You’ve been warned.
So Apple is getting into VR and their first move (at least in the public eye) is selling ViewMaster headsets in their stores that will work with the iPhone and provide users with immersive virtual reality experiences. Reels for the ViewMaster aren’t going to be cheap, but the device itself costs only $30, which is rather cool for a Cardboard-like device. Although it’s nice to see that iPhone users can get a VR headset directly from the company, it’s not much of an announcement nor is it that big of a deal. However, Apple is apparently making their own VR headset (duh) sometime in the future.
While some say the hype about Apple VR is a PR stunt to cover up a possible failure regarding the Apple Car, various sources are confident that Tim Cook and co. are still working with companies to build an autonomous vehicle that runs on Apple. However, VR is the focus of the mobile and IoT world right now, and it would be downright suspicious if Apple didn’t get in on the fun, especially after Tim Cook showed quite the enthusiasm at the prospect of VR. He did not, however, confirm if Apple was going to make its own VR headset in the future. My hunch is that they will, and recent news about Apple collaborating with and buying various startups, companies, universities and researchers focusing on virtual reality confirms this hunch.
Although Oculus and Samsung have been launching Gear VR for the past couple of years, the Oculus Rift is up for $600, Sony’s Project Morpheus Playstation VR is close, HTC and Valve’s Vive VR headset is gaining traction and Epson as well as Microsoft are making impressive progress on the augmented reality side of things, Apple wants to take over the market, once again. As they did with the Apple Watch, which sold I think close to 5 million units since its launch in the Spring of 2015, Apple is surely thinking of repeating the same strategy. The Apple Watch, although pretty basic, uninteresting and expensive, still outsold all wearables on the market, proving that anything Apple is going to be a success. Although I personally despise the fact that a brand name equals quality no matter what we’re looking at, I have to give to Apple: they’re making a hell of a lot of money. I do have to say that I admire the company’s policies and involvement in social- and environmental issues, so I don’t mind them making sustainable energy, equal rights and animal rights popular topics.
However, I condemn the company for getting into VR this late. Others have already left a significant mark in the virtual reality industry and have produced tech that truly amazes everyone, not just first-time VR users. Once Apple VR becomes a thing, I fear many people will just forget about all the effort these companies and startups put into their high-tech gear and flock to Apple, regardless of whether the product is actually better or not. They’ll flock because it’s Apple. This statement is, of course, debatable since I’m not sure how willing console and PC gamers will be towards it, if it’s not something revolutionary and priced accordingly.
However, knowing Apple and being inspired by their Apple Watch launch, I think the first Apple VR gadget they’ll launch will be sub-par in performance compared to say, the Oculus Rift headset. Since the Cupertino company is selling a VR gadget that requires a phone to work, their own Apple VR device will most likely be an autonomous one, like the Rift. Since virtual reality is more about gaming and porn than anything else, there’s a need for serious prowess to make it work as gamers would like it to work. However, we need to consider that Macs and iMacs are not made for gaming and many agree that OS X is definitely not one for games. The logical move would be to migrate mobile games into VR. That, in my mind, means a separate store for Apple VR content and a device independent of other Apple products. But since we’re familiar with the company’s unilateral view on cross-platform compatibility and independent devices that are not interconnected, I find it hard to believe Apple would launch such a gadget.
So why am I so convinced that Apple VR is a thing and that it will be launched? Well, because there is quite a lot of evidence of their foray into VR all around the web. Apparently, Financial Times is convinced that prototype Apple VR headsets have already been tested, an assumption that stands unconfirmed, yet telling of future ventures. Moreover, the Cupertino giant seems to already have a well-rounded team of scientists and researchers working in their newly established VR department. Various hires have been made public on social media platform LinkedIn and news reports have also confirmed Apple’s interests in virtual- and augmented reality specialists. Regular visits of Apple execs to Stanford’s VR lab also propagate the idea that the company is getting closer to reaching a goal that we are not privileged enough to know about. Even though it’s pretty obvious that Apple is going to take part in the VR race, I find it a bit arrogant to still keep the matter behind curtains after such a delayed participation. However, since the collaboration of Apple with VR companies dates back at least a couple of years, we can’t be sure that the company is fashionably late on purpose or not.
The latter theory might be supported by various VR-related patents that Apple had filed years ago, some of them being granted throughout last year. Most of these patents hold nothing that innovative, most of them focused on the same type of design as the ViewMaster or Gear VR, with iPhones meant to handle the graphics processing for VR content like games and videos. At the same time, supply chain sources claim that dual cameras purportedly made for AR purposes have been ordered by Apple in large numbers, suggesting the iPhone 7 might be launched with an accessory akin to the Samsung Gear VR or Google CardBoard even. All this brings us to one certain conclusion: Apple VR is happening, although the parameters remain unclear. VR is the trend of 2016, and Apple most likely wants to keep it a trend for the years to come, as such people suggesting we might actually see all these rumors materialize soon enough. But will Apple VR revolutionize in the way the Apple Watch did, will it flop or will it bring actual innovation to the VR industry? That’s anyone’s guess.
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