Everybody who’s anybody is working on augmented reality (AR), with Google, Facebook and Microsoft three examples of such pioneering minds. Apple is the one being left behind, but perhaps not for long.
In 2014, Facebook spent $2bn on Oculus, the makers of the Rift AR headset, in a move that seemed to be a massive statement of intent since day one.
For comparison, Instagram, a tool of the now, cost Mark Zuckerberg’s company half that sum.
Since that AR purchase, the public has played the waiting game, as various companies positioned their headsets for a 2016-7 release date, with the early signs very promising.
But what of Apple? Surprisingly quiet in this field on the surface, the company has actually been acquiring suitable companies, patenting various products and gearing itself up for an AR future.
In 2013, it bought Israel-based motion sensor firm PrimeSense for $360m, the first step down the AR road. Since then, behind the scenes, things have sped up.
Now reports have emerged of a partnership with Carl Zeiss, with the team apparently working on a pair of lightweight glasses.
Robert Scoble suggests that the partnership between Apple and Carl Zeiss is so strong that the latter did not showcase any AR or VR merchandise at CES this month, part of a supposed agreement between the duo.
Citing a source at Carl Zeiss, Scoble thinks an Apple product could be launched as soon as this year.
For the tech giant, it’s getting to a case of the sooner the better, for its rivals are storming ahead in this space.
For example, Google recently showcased its AR capabilities with a new museum-friendly experience. Partnering with a number of institutions around the world, Google will allow its AR Tango platform to add a new layer to the museum-going experience.
The Apple AR rumours began late last year, with the first suggestions of a Google Glass-like product emerging in Bloomberg, largely on the back of a small number of component orders and an earlier statement of intent from CEO Tim Cook following Pokémon Go’s runaway success in 2016.
“AR can be really great, and we have been – and continue to – invest a lot in this,” Cook said at the time. “We are high on AR for the long run. We think there are great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.”
A compound annual growth rate of 181.3pc is expected across AR and VR between 2015 and 2020, according to a recent report from IDC.
With the initial hardware expected to represent around $80bn of the total market value come 2020, the same amount will be generated in additional software services to bring the total to around $162bn.
This will initially be driven by VR systems, with viewers, software, consulting services and systems integration services set to dominate in 2017, before AR takes the lead.
Apple rarely dodges such lucrative markets.