Is this a Gamble?
For the past couple of years, we’ve been used to hearing Apple talk up its commitment to Augmented Reality (AR). Many commentators have seen this as a calculated strategic gamble – a decision to back the AR horse while many rivals focus on Virtual Reality (VR).
And, to be fair, the Californian tech giant has been more than prepared to put its money where its mouth is, including AR support as standard on nearly all new devices and licensing thousands of AR apps for sale through the App Store.
But one noticeable gap in Apple’s AR armory has been the lack of an AR-specific wearable device – the kind of ‘smart glasses’ most famously pioneered by Google Glasses and Microsoft’s HoloLens.
Admittedly, it’s not the most lucrative of markets just yet. The few examples of AR-ready smart glasses that are available have, for all the hype surrounding the technology, remained pretty niche items even amongst the most gadget-savvy consumers.
Testing the Water
Now whispering have emerged that Apple is in no rush to jump into such a small and unproven market, and instead is planning to test the water with a VR headset instead. According to a report from Bloomberg, we could see an Apple rival to the popular Oculus and Sony Playstation VR products by 2022.
In some ways, this approach makes sense for what would be Apple’s first foray into a new product category since the launch of the Apple Watch. Bolstered by their popularity amongst gamers, fully immersive VR headsets represent a far larger and more mature market than their AR equivalents, which are intended to have a much broader range of applications beyond gaming.
What is slightly odd is that, according to Bloomberg, Apple is planning their debut AR/VR headset to be a “pricey, niche” product for which they have “conservative sales expectations.” Premium pricing might be no surprise for an Apple device, but modest sales forecasts is not something we associate with a company that ships upwards of 200 million iPhones alone each year.
Bloomberg reports that the idea is to use a VR headset as a “precursor” to an AR device, perhaps to gauge market interest as well as test the technology. But if Apple doesn’t exactly have stellar expectations about the commercial performance of this new device, it’s a fair question to ask why it doesn’t just back its previous investments in AR and jump straight in with the smart glasses?