Is Apple About To End The Party Again?

Since Pokémon Go brought augmented reality to mainstream attention in the summer of 2016, AR has been one of the technologies spoken about with most potential. I think I have lost count of the many, many promises made and the many, many attempts by companies to bring this to the end-user.

The problem with so many augmented reality plans, is that they seem to think Pokémon GO was some worldwide phenomena, that monetised augmented reality for the first time just because of the technology. Pokémon GO succeeded, where others have since failed, by tapping into an established user base and presenting the technology via the most accessible means available – the smart phone already in people’s pockets.

The truth is that AR is being held back from large-scale adoption for two reasons. The first is the lack of accessibility. Every suggested AR idea comes with a new piece of kit. From the £3,000 HoloLens, to the still officially alive Google Glass, to even potentially-useful products such as Hear One, every company is looking for end-users to purchase a new item.

The second, equally important, factor that holds augmented reality back is, quite simply, the lack of potential applications. The tech is there, not just in sight but across multiple senses, augmented reality has spread to what we hear and is even moving into what we touch. But the issue remains – what are we actually going to use it for? This presents a slight chicken and egg problem: AR has few applications because few people are using it; few people are using it because it has few applications.

Enter that one company with a track record known across the world for taking existing technology and presenting it in a way people actually want to use. Come on down, Apple.

With the launch of their ARKit, as part of the new iOS, Apple is coming to the AR party in a big way, and the huge beast that it is could end it all for everyone else. With access to a user base in the region of 1 billion people, and augmented reality presented in a way people already use, their phones, this is the next and the best chance yet for AR to really enter mainstream.

Apple is about to simultaneously put augmented reality into the hands of everyone with an iPhone or iPad. With just the download of an app, the end-user will have access to AR on a device they carry with them everyday. The sheer reach of Apple’s ARKit will lead to developers launching new applications for this technology in time for launch and quickly after it. Done correctly, the chicken and egg can come at the same time.

While this may be another AR flop, the Google Glass of today, Apple has a real chance to turn augmented reality into its next big success.

The company that gave us the smartphone as we know it may even become the first company to extend AR beyond sight, for the mass market. With the new airpods, the internet of things enabled HomeKit and the upcoming smart speaker HomePod, Apple can build augmented reality into a true ecosystem.

It is plausible, or even likely, that in very short order, sound will be augmented by airpods, sight by phones and with the smart speaker aware of your surroundings and IoT enabled devices controlled by HomeKit, a true augmented reality will be brought to market by Apple.

This represents the next, best chance for AR to get beyond the 13-15% of market penetration any technology requires to become accepted. If done right, Apple can answer the question ‘what am I going to use this for’ and by placing AR in the palm of your hand, end the need for new kit.

iOS 11 launches this September, with ARKit predicted to be a core part of the update. For the end-user AR could, by the end of the year, become a fact of life. For companies developing AR devices; time to work out how not to become the next Nokia or share their fate.

We’ve all had a great time playing around at the AR party. The teenagers of funky tech have been having it large on the possibilities of augmented reality. From September, the parents are back in town and the party is over.

Or it will flop again. But does anyone really want to bet against Apple taking existing technology and packaging it in a way its evangelicals love and the rest use because it is easy and better?

Watch this space.

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