Technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are believed to revolutionize means of interacting with the surroundings. From Google Glass, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, to the extremely addictive smartphone game Pokemon Go; augmented and virtual reality appear to slowly make an impression on the real world. But does that mean the dreaded idea of people wearing individual headsets lost in their own ‘virtual’ world, despite being in a crowd, will soon become a reality? According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the idea behind developing augmented reality shouldn’t be to make it a barrier in human communication but an amplifier.At a time when competitors such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are aggressively exploring this new facet of technology where virtual details are layered above real surroundings through the means of hardware or software, Apple has been tight-lipped about its future plans. However, in a recent interview with BuzzFeed News, CEO Tim Cook has dropped a hint regarding its ambitions, which might one day deliver a product or service that makes use of augmented reality.
Augmented reality can be best understood with an example of the hugely popular Nintendo game – Pokemon Go– in which users catch virtual characters using real-time locations. When it comes to Apple, there has been no official word about whether it would go the Google-way and create a Cardboard-like platform to allow an immersive experience or follow Facebook’s footsteps to acquire Oculus and come up with the Rift headset, or become even more revolutionary like Microsoft and design a product on the lines of HoloLens. Often technologies which others have pioneered and exhausted are the last to be adopted by Apple. It seems the same holds true for the augmented reality. By not detailing any product, it doesn’t mean Apple is not interested in the technology. According to Cook, Apple is pretty much interested in augmented reality because it can further enhance human experiences. ALSO READ: Apple sets up a huge secret team to work on virtual reality: Report
Cook said, “There’s no substitute for human contact. And so you want the technology to encourage that.” Even in the past, Apple had indicated that it might favor augmented reality. During an earnings call this past summer, Cook had said, “We are high on AR for the long run. I think AR can be huge.” While bigwigs like Facebook are betting high on the virtual reality, for Apple, the augmented reality is the way forward. What differentiates the two technologies is the application and usage. In augmented reality, there is no blocking of real world surroundings, for example – the Google Glass. One of the early attempts at augmented reality, it used a pair of ordinary-looking lab glasses but with a small computer attached to it, it projected information in front of the wearer’s eyes, without blocking out the real-world. Although the project did not kick off owing to privacy issues and design flaws, it certainly paved way for companies to explore the potential of the technology. When it comes to virtual reality, the experience is limited to the virtual world being displayed through a head-mounted display. The interaction and experiences derived out of each technology also varies.
The Apple CEO believes that while virtual reality has some interesting applications, it is augmented reality that is broad-based and more profound. He further explained that these technologies should become an enhancer or amplifier of human interactions. “I think that things like these are better when they’re incorporated without becoming a barrier to our talking. … You want the technology to amplify it, not to be a barrier,” Cook added.
Other than its immensely popular iOS and Mac devices, Apple is time and again rumored to be working on a variety of alternative products and technologies like its own television content, self-driving cars, and more recently the augmented or virtual reality project. ALSO READ: Apple is working on its own virtual reality goggles
In the past, the company has quietly acquired a host of companies that have been working on augmented reality. Back in 2013, it acquired PrimeSense – the company behind the motion-capture sensors used in Microsoft’s Kinect gaming hardware. In May 2015, it acquired a German augmented reality firm Metaio followed by Faceshift – the company behind the real-time motion capture technology used in Star Wars. In 2016, Apple acquired virtual reality research scientist Yury Petrov, who has worked with Facebook’s Oculus division and also appointed Zeyu Li from Magic Leap, which works on a fairly new mixed reality technology. There have also been patent listings which hint at a head-mounted display in Apple’s pipelines. Although not every patent makes it to the real world, a mere ideation goes a long way in giving a glimpse into what the company has in mind for future. These have been only few of the notable acquisitions and hiring that the tech giant has made in the past and which clearly indicate that Apple isn’t really sitting idle as the world is going places virtually, without moving an inch in reality.