Apple’s Vision for VR
Apple has been teasing the public for a while now regarding their “behind the scenes” involvement in the VR world. A lot of people were becoming rather concerned about the tech giant’s apparent lack of interest in the technology, but Apple has done this to us before. Appearing to be down and out but all the while watching and waiting, and developing in secret, then like the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes BAM!!!!, we suddenly had the iPhone and nothing was ever the same again. As of January 2017, it is safe to say that we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel through several clues that Apple has provided to us.
Until recently, Apple computers were not built with graphic cards able to drive high quality VR. Non-mobile gaming has not been part of Apple’s vision for decades. All but their most expensive desktops incapable of even the most modest gaming graphics, let alone highly demanding VR. This led most if not all developers to turn to Windows products to explore the virtual world. Now, suddenly they have jumped right in the deep end of both entertainment and development. During the last WWDC (Apple Worldwide Developers Conference), Apple demonstrated the use of a Vive VR headset with an ILM (Identity Lifecycle Manager) and Unity(a program that allows its user to create both 2D and 3D games, apps, and experiences), ultimately showcasing VR running on a Mac Book for the very ﬁrst time.
Apples New iMac Will Support Virtual Reality
Apples new iMac is going to feature the best display the Mac has ever seen. Screens will be 43% brighter than previous models, graphic cards will be getting a nice boost, and the operating system will support virtual reality. Up until now the only way that Apple VR fans could run a high end VR system on a mac, was to boot into windows. Though the graphics cards were not up to par for even a decent experience.
This is set to completely change with Apple adopting the yet to be released AMD Vega graphics for their new iMac Pro line. We have yet to even see synthetic benchmarks from AMD but Vega is said to be on par with NVIDIA’s mighty GTX 1080, a card more than capable of VR. Apple has also been building its own GPU architecture that will be a significant leap forward for the technology industry. The architecture has been noted as being as significant an advancement as the iOS was ten years ago.
Does Apple Have a AR Headset or Smart Glasses?
The answer is that we don’t really know. Apple has been publicly dancing around the subject but they have not actually confirmed what their plans are for these two technologies. It has been revealed that Apple has teamed up with Germany’s Carl Zeiss to create a pair of augmented reality (AR) smart glasses. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple has recently been noted saying “I view AR like I view the silicon here in my iPhone. It’s not a product per se, it’s a core technology. But there are things to discover before that technology is good enough for the mainstream. I do think there can be a lot of things that really help people out in daily life, real-life things, that’s why I get so excited about it.” He is also noted as saying that “Augmented reality use will become as common as eating three meals a day.”
It’s all still speculation at this point, but in general the language seems to lean heavily towards AR. For VR they seem happy to let third parties like HTC take the reigns but they clearly want to make AR into the new must have technology for the mainstream market. Can Apple make smart glasses work where google already failed? Only time will tell.
Recent Apple Patents Hint at Both AR & VR
Apple’s history in this area actually goes back further and most realize with patents for a head mounted stereoscopic display as far back as 1996. There is even a paper from 1995 talking about something called “Hyper Reality” which sounds so awesome I honestly hope they revive that term for their new system. In January of 2017, Apple was granted several patents that describe mobile AR systems that could relay VR information to users in real time. Similar patents surrounding AR were filed back in February of 2015. Both a head mounted display system and a mobile system that can recognize its surroundings were described within these documents. It all sounds very much like the all-in-one, inside-out tracking devices like Microsoft’s Hololens and the Oculus Santa Cruz prototype.
Some are betting, from the information that Apple has released to the public, that the next thing from Apple will be Apple glasses that make use of AR technology. The difference between AR and VR is simply that in VR we put on a headset and we are transported into an interactive 360-degree virtual world, whereas, AR utilizes transparent lenses to place digital items on top of the real world around the user.
Revelations at the 2017 WWDC
Another major reveal made by Apple is the ARKit. The ARKit is a new application programming interface that allows developers to build augmented reality apps for Apple devices. Apple is pitching the new technology for both the iPad and the iPhone, which makes it the largest AR platform in the world. They were able to show off several impressive demonstrations at the recent WWDC and were noted saying that “It’s an experience coming to existing devices before the end of 2017.” Sources claim that the iPhone 8 will be the big start for Apple’s AR movement, that the company has purchased multiple AR ﬁrms, and that they have a 1,000 engineers working on AR projects. It’s all pretty exciting.
What Can You Expect?
You can expect some big things from Apple before the end of the year. Apple is clearly putting together something huge that involves either virtual reality, augmented reality, or both. From major upgrades to their new hardware, high screen resolutions, and their system upgrades to the patents they have been ﬁling, it is safe to say that we will be able to experience virtual reality and/or augmented reality by the end of the year on an Apple device. It’s no secret that VR/AR is not going mainstream as fast as expected so here’s hoping the golden touch of Apple will finally quash all the speculation about the future of the industry.