Apple Inc. is well loved for creating some of the most revolutionary products and developing ground-breaking technologies and innovations. However, virtual reality (VR) is one particular field where the California-based company has not made any significant advancement, lagging behind its tech peers Microsoft Corporation , Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc . This all seems set to change in the near future after recent reports hinted that Apple is working to develop a VR product that will revolutionize the industry.
Declining Apple iPhone sales
Apple iPhone sales, which usually clock record figures in every quarter, witnessed a decline for the first time in Q4 2015. Sales dropped 4.4% year-over-year (71.5mn iPhones sold) during the reported quarter, compared with 74.8mn deliveries in Q414. The iPhone still remains the company’s most popular product, but a muted growth forecast in the overall smartphone market has led Apple to explore new opportunities in VR, which is right now in its nascent stage. If the firm indeed succeeds in creating a truly innovative product, it may well be the next big thing for the future.
Cutthroat competition to grab a slice of the VR market
Apple Inc. has been a little late to the VR scene, and early adopters such as Samsung, Facebook’s Oculus VR, HTC, Sony and Google are predicted to dominate the market. Consider the following stats:
Total sales of virtual and augmented reality (AR) devices is projected to surge to 24mn by 2018, from 2.5mn in 2015, according to market research firm CCS Insight. Investment bank Piper Jaffray estimates Samsung Gear VR headset (launched in November 2015) sales to touch 5mn units in 2016 alone, followed by Facebook’s Oculus Rift (3.6mn deliveries), HTC (2.1mn Vives) and Sony (1.4mn PlayStation VRs). All these stand-along headsets (except the Gear VR) are slated to be launched in 2016, with aggregate sales forecasted to reach 500mn by 2025.
The overall VR market is expected to be worth $30bn by 2020, with growth driven by VR games, movies and experiences, believes tech M&A advisory firm Digi-Capital, while research firm KZero anticipates the number of paying VR users to grow from 4.8mn currently to 28mn by 2018.
We have also seen nearly 10mn downloads of Google’s Cardboard app from the Google Play store, indicating the massive popularity for the DIY kit that can turn your mobile phone into a VR headset by simply inserting the device into a cardboard box.
Facebook has big plans for VR and the company has been building a digital ecosystem with Oculus Home, a Steam-like platform which allows users to buy VR games or view VR scenes. The company also set up Oculus Story Studio- a dedicated film studio for VR filmmaking, in 2015.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has applied for a patent for a head-mounted display with an electrochromic dimming module that can turn HoloLens AR into VR glasses. Through the new patent, the company hopes that customers will not have to choose between an AR or VR headset. This technology, if successfully integrated within the Hololens DIY kit, is touted to be a game-changer in the VR market.
Apple certainly faces an uphill task ahead, and it will have to come up with something radical to stave off competition and grab a huge chunk of the VR market.
Apple is increasing staffing, acquiring VR-related firms
On January 29, the Financial Times reported that the Cupertino tech giant had assembled a large team comprising experts in VR and AR technologies and which had developed prototype headsets that could possibly compete with Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens. Apple has also ramped up hiring in the VR field, recruiting Dough Bowman a researcher at Virginia Tech. with considerable expertise in human-computer interaction, particularly 3D interfaces. It also recently hired Nick Thompson, who earlier worked at Microsoft’s HoloLens division.
In addition, the company has also acquired four startups specializing in VR and associated technologies – Metaio, FaceShift, PrimeSense and FlyBy Media. This clearly signifies Apple’s priority for the next major thing.
Marketing Mattel’s View Master
Google has seen huge success with Cardboard, which is essentially concerned with phone-based VR. Of late, Apple stores have begun marketing Mattel’s View Master, which converts an iPhone into a VR headset. This hints at Apple’s acknowledgement of the growing popularity of phone-based VR.
iPhone 7 camera to feature AR capabilities?
Recent rumors have suggested that Apple’s next-gen iPhone will likely feature a new camera that will have AR capabilities. Several original equipment manufacturers in Asia have hinted at receiving large orders for dual-lens camera components from the tech firm. If this is indeed true, then the new iPhone would have features to potentially estimate the distance to walls or other obstacles, unlocking several computer vision possibilities, and creating a high-quality augmented reality experience.
Frequent visits to Stanford’s virtual reality laboratory
The Virtual Human Interaction laboratory at Stanford University is regarded as a premier destination for technologists seeking to explore the fields of VR and AR. Now, the lab has been in operation since 2003, but the company’s executives have never visited it in 13 years and all of a sudden they have made three visits in the last three months, claims Jeremey Bailenson, who been operating the lab since its inception. This definitely indicates Apple’s strong interest in VR, and given its record of churning out the most advanced and unique products, we can expect something truly innovative from the company.