Apple’s plan to create an App Store and an easy way to create mixed-reality apps offers an important insight into its strategy and confirms that the company sees these devices as platforms, not peripherals. And when considering the business case for them, we need to see whether they hit that mark.
A new platform
The big-ticket news is that Apple wants to make it possible for any user to create AR/VR apps for these devices. (It even seems ready to allow Siri to drop items into virtual experiences.)
Critics argue that Apple may not have identified a key app for these unannounced systems. And they note that the cost of the device (apparently $2,000+), limited battery life, and small content catalogue at launch means consumers will be less interested.
But I never believed Apple is gunning for the consumer market just yet. It has a larger objective. I think it sees the first iterations of these devices as the birth of a new computing platform, more like the introduction of the Mac than of the iPhone.
Apple wants to build a new paradigm
Think back to two other great computing inflection points: the invention of desktop publishing and the creation of the first significant mobile app store for iPhone.
Just as desktop publishing spawned tens of thousands of computer-driven graphic designers and the App Store begat hundreds of thousands of app developers, Apple wants its mixed-reality glasses to have the same degree of impact.
It wants to both present these new environments and democratize the process of building for them.
The Information even reports you’ll be able to use a Mac keyboard and mouse with these systems, while using the glasses to replace the computer display. Apple is also said to be developing a gesture-based system so that you don’t even need a keyboard, though this isn’t ready yet.
These won’t only be lean-back entertainment systems, nor will they just be augmented reality guides – they’ll do both, but Apple seems to want its glasses to become creative tools.
It wants them to become important creative tools to enable expression and innovation at the intersection of technology in the liberal arts, because that’s what it usually wants its products to become.
This is a creative platform
Apple doesn’t want to be wholly responsible for content on its device. It wants to bring in its army of developers and audience of creatives and empower them to stake new frontiers in Apple reality.
Just as desktop publishing meant everyone in the world suddenly believed they could design pizza menus, approachable AR app creation will (perhaps) unlock new creative possibilities, some of which will become iconic.
The Information tells us the company is prepared to make a loss on product sales but is also developing lower-cost systems for release in two or three years.
This leads me to think this release won’t be about the hardware, but about the ecosystem – and that also means bringing a bona fide creative platform to market.
What this means to business
OK, so you’re a business, why should this matter to you?
Take training. Given around two-thirds of businesses are expected to use solutions like these for employee training systems, bringing home an approachable app development ecosystem means building such apps will be more affordable.
Add a little AI, a sugaring of machine vision intelligence, location awareness, and spatial sensors — and your business may suddenly find itself empowered to affordably create digital twins for use across a wide range of disciplines.
Just ask Siri to scan an object you want to use, choose a physics engine, and watch it run. That looks like a great front end for complex modeling.
The 22nd Century Mac
These things aren’t intended to be a console game or TV set you get to wear.vThey are Macs you’ll wear like sunglasses, and whatever Apple brings to market will only be the first step toward that.
After all, as another tech CEO famously said, “Our goal is not only to win, but to accelerate its arrival.”
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