Apple has big plans for mixed reality, and reports claiming it may have delayed introduction of its much-speculated-upon AR glasses are just the tip of the iceberg for an effort now reaching a crescendo of coordination across most of the company’s business units.
Here’s why I think this.
Apple wants to build a platform
We know Apple plans to introduce a platform for AR. It doesn’t seek solely to launch a product, but an entire ecosystem. To accomplish that, it’s going to need all its software development teams to coordinate efforts.
In addition to ensuring the operating system used in the device itself is solid, they must also verify Apple’s glasses work well with other devices and applications the company makes. That’s a lot of work for the software development teams.
What about hardware?
We know Apple to have been iterating and developing its own processors for years. Within these chips it has continued to improve its neural engine.
We also know that optical and imaging AI is an important component of what the company does, not just in terms of software and Metal, but also in terms of building on-chip hardware to cope with complex tasks. That harmony is really visible in some of the photo effects you can already make happen on iPhone.
Accessibility teams also have a part to play in the cross-company effort. Things like person and door detection, voice control and gesture recognition will all likely play a part in Apple’s plan for AR glasses. Apple has been working away at elements of this iteration for many years.
Getting the team together
Apple’s media teams also seem busy setting the stage for the Next Big Thing.
All those sports entertainment deals and attempted deals evidently lend themselves to AR experience design. Apple’s Fitness+ shows are filmed and owned by Apple and, for all we know, may already be available in 3D in a dusty digital filing cabinet in Eddy Cue’s office.
Apple’s media teams have also allegedly been working with media partners such as Disney to persuade them to develop content for Apple’s purported devices.
Education, enterprise, and collaboration team efforts also feature here. For this, think about the need to use MDM management APIs to make these unreleased devices peer players in enterprise technology stacks (with fantastic collaborative features such as Freeform or Continuity). All these improvements lend themselves to a video-based communication.
Those teams have been busy, too.
I’m sure there are other Apple teams working in great secrecy on components they may not even officially know will belong to Apple’s mixed reality plans, but there’s one more team to think about: Apple’s server teams.
Apple’s servers already handle a lot of action — all those Music requests, TV+ show downloads, iCloud Drive, and a zillion other back end server-based systems that keep the entire ecosystem moving.
All the same, any move to introduce more video-based content and communication for AR will quite obviously mean those servers will have a lot more to handle — so Apple needs that infrastructure in place.
A report from Structure Research suggests Apple is already working to extend its server infrastructure, with plans to triple its data center power capacity. “Apple data centers had an operational data center capacity of 600 MW in 2022,” that report says. “In the future, as Apple expands its presence, it is projected to add a capacity of 1,403 MW.”
There has been speculation this massive (projected) growth may be intended to handle the overheads of incoming improvements to Siri. That may well be the case, given the company’s imminent AI meeting at Apple Park. But this massive deployment of additional capacity could also reflect the need to support the massive bandwidth demands Apple expects to generate through the provision of AR-based services for Apple Glass. Apple-Reality-As-A-Service, if you wish.
The dance is reaching its crescendo
But if you stop to think about how Apple’s decision to build these systems has led to such massive effort across the entire company to get the product proposal right, it’s hard not to get a little excited.
No wonder Apple’s R&D spend increased $1.4 billion in its just gone quarter.
I’m willing to bet some in Cupertino are already brainstorming toward incredibly interactive Apple mixed-reality demos we’re all going to want to join later this year at its retail stores.
One day, it will be interesting to read about the years of internal struggle and top secret development that even now are still taking place across the company on this particular product journey.
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