Just one day before the retail release of the iPhone X, Apple CEO Tim Cook trumpeted the company's continued success during an earnings call with reporters conducted via telephone. And while he rolled out the expected glowing praise for the new iPhone, what stood out most was his effusive language describing Apple's new focus on augmented reality.
"AR is going to change everything," said Cook. "There are already over 1,000 apps with powerful AR features in our App Store today, with developers creating amazing new experiences in virtually every category of apps aimed at consumers, students and business users alike."
I see things that consumers will love on the gaming side and the entertainment side. I see business-related AR apps as well. They're going to be great for productivity and between small and large business.
Cook's excitement regarding AR matches the sentiment within the investment community. While hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on virtual reality hardware and software ventures, most industry analysts and investors are betting that AR's ability to be deployed via mobile devices, without the need of a headset, will allow it to scale faster with mainstream users. Once that happens, many expect AR to become a seamless computing layer on the world's smartphones as we wait for the creation of viable AR glasses (about five years from now, according to Facebook).
"The reason I'm so excited about AR is I view that it amplifies human performance instead of isolates humans," said Cook, in an obvious nod to Apple's decision to prioritize AR over VR. "AR is the mix of the virtual and the physical world and so it should be a help for humanity, not an isolation kind of thing for humanity."
But Cook's comments weren't merely hyperbolic visions of an aspirational future, he actually laid out a few use case scenarios that may be able to harness the unique qualities of AR as we know it today, and in the coming months and years.
"For example, [today] there are AR apps that let you interact with virtual models of everything you can imagine, from the human body to the solar system," said Cook. "Instantly, education becomes much more powerful when every subject comes to life in 3D. And imagine shopping when you can place an object in your living room before you make a purchase, or attending live sporting events when you can see the stats on the field … I see business-related AR apps as well … The real beauty here is that it's mainstream."
But to truly understand just how important Apple thinks AR is, we need only pay attention to the analogy he made toward the end of his comments regarding immersive computing. Rather than compare AR to another contemporary technology, Steve Jobs' successor likened ARKit-powered apps to the initial launch of the app store nearly a decade ago.
"I think this is very much like in 2008, when we fired the gun in the overall App Store…that's what it feels like to me, and I think it will just get bigger from here," said Cook. "I view AR as profound. Not today, not the app that you'll see on the App Store today, but what it will be, what it can be. I think it's profound and I think Apple is in a really unique position to lead in this area."