Apple is making a move into augmented reality, but not in a way you might think.
Tim Cook has made no secret of his designs on AR. In a July 2016 earnings conference call, he told investors, “We are high on AR for the long run. We think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity. So we’re investing.”
In 2017, he spoke about AR in more ambitious terms, referring to AR as a game-changing idea that can transform industries, just like the iPhone did. As he told The Independent, “I regard it as a big idea, like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge.”
Cook’s remarks about AR have fueled speculation that the new Apple iPhone, coming in September, will be an AR product. The speculation makes sense. 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, and the pressure is on for Cook to create a legacy of his own especially given the slow uptake of the Apple Watch, which was supposed to be a defining moment for Cook.
And the iPhone may very well support AR. But Cook has also made it clear that Apple is working on a suite of AR products, and a recent news development points toward eyewear being one of them. On May 12, Apple announced that Corning will receive $200 million as part of a fund that Apple established to foster innovation among American manufacturers. As Apple stated in an announcement, “The investment will support Corning’s R&D, capital equipment needs and state-of-the-art glass processing. Corning’s 65-year-old Harrodsburg facility has been integral to the 10-year collaboration between these two innovative companies and will be the focus of Apple’s investment.”
Corning has helped Apple create the glass cover for the iPhone since Apple released the first iPhone in 2007. It makes perfect sense for Apple to apply Corning’s expertise to manufacture AR supported eyeglasses. The creation of a wearable fits perfectly with Tim Cook’s embrace of wearables, and AR eyeglasses are a possible antidote to slumping iPhone sales. What’s more, AR is an easier pivot for Apple and has more immediate uses than virtual reality. And Corning knows eyewear.
Creating AR eyewear is certainly no slam dunk. Battery requirements, a new operating system, and, most of all, the availability of compelling content are among the hurdles Apple needs to overcome. But overcoming hurdles is something of a specialty at Apple, and the company’s well established partnerships should help it develop enduring content that will make Pokemon GO look like an amateurish AR rough draft.
Meanwhile, partners like Corning are needed to build the product. Stay tuned. Apple is creating an AR ecosystem that will pressure businesses to understand how to incorporate AR into their operations sooner than you think.