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Apple's Next Big Secret Work Augmented Reality

Apple's Next Big Secret Work Augmented Reality

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So when the iPhone 8 comes out, I would like to see Siri be AR ready. I would like to point my iPhone 8 to an ancient building in the Athens Agora, and Siri telling me the history of what I am point to. Or I would like Siri to help me find an Indian restaurant when walking in Corso Venezia in Milan.

The glasses are “further down the road,” according to Bloomberg. Rightly so. That’s a much larger challenge, with far more to go wrong. First, there’s the hardware to nail: if Apple doesn’t want a Google Glass-style failure on its hands, it’ll need to create something that’s both polished and (relatively) affordable. While Bloomberg says the device would lean on the processing power of an iPhone for the most part, there are still plenty of tricky design choices to be made, not least relating to optics and batteries.

Among the offerings: The ability to pay friends with Apple Pay. An iPad with a larger, sharper screen. How about an industrial strength iMac for $5,000?

But it will require new software, too, including special apps and an operating system to run on the glasses, as well as a new chip to put inside them. Similar technologies were developed for the Apple Watch, which runs its own apps and using its operating system.

Oculus Rift is one of the first virtual reality headsets available for consumers. It was released at the end of March 2016, and is priced competitively at $599. The Oculus Rift debuted on Kickstarter in 2013 and has been under development since then, attracting a lot of attention and bringing virtual reality into the spotlight.

When it comes to virtual and augmented reality, Apple is typically — and inevitably — inscrutable. As several of its biggest competitors, including Google and Microsoft, have shown their hands with augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) strategies, Apple has mostly kept a poker face. But in an exclusive interview with BuzzFeed News Japan during his visit to Tokyo, Cook clarified Apple’s position a bit, suggesting the company is most interested in AR because it can enhance and amplify human experiences."There's no substitute for human contact," Cook told BuzzFeed News. "And so you want the technology to encourage that." It’s not the first time Cook has indicated that Apple might favor AR. "We are high on AR for the long run," Cook said during an earnings call this past summer. “I think AR can be huge." Huge, indeed -- one could look to the sudden and explosive success of Pokemon Go to see an immediate real-world example.Cook's remarks follow a series of behind-the-curtain moves by Apple to bolster its AR acumen. Back in 2013, Apple acquired PrimeSense, the company behind the the motion-capture sensors used in the original Microsoft Kinect gaming hardware.

Then in May 2015, it acquired German augmented-reality firm Metaio. A few months later, Apple snapped up Faceshift, the outfit behind the real-time motion capture technology used in Star Wars. This year, it poached VR research scientist Yury Petrov from Facebook's Oculus division and hired Magic Leap's Zeyu Li to be its "senior computer vision algorithm engineer." (Magic Leap is the company that envisions a world in which whales breach on high school basketball courts.) Apple also put on its payroll Doug Bowman, the Director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech; Bowman was a member of the team responsible for designing the Virginia Tech Cube, a VR research space. And then there are the patents: A "head-mounted display," a "peripheral treatment for head-mounted displays."

According to Apple insiders, Cupertino's next foray into the quickly expanding wearables market will be digital, augmented reality glasses. As Bloomberg reports, Apple has discussed a potential competitor to Snapchat's Spectacles and Google's Project Aura with its hardware suppliers and even ordered "small quantities of near-eye displays" for testing purposes.

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The dream way of doing that is building glasses, according to the Bloomberg report. Those glasses will be tethered to the iPhone, like the Watch, allowing the handset to do the heavy lifting, downloading and provide much of the battery while information is displayed on the glasses.

Cook even went as far as to liken it to the smartphone, and how that has changed the world. "I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone" he claimed. "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."

If the Apple shades do become a reality, Bloomberg's sources say they will connect wirelessly to an iPhone and will display information, images and other data directly in the user's field of view. At the earliest, a product like this could be announced sometime in 2018 at the earliest, but Apple is notoriously secretive with its product development, which could change course at any moment. What we do know, however, is that Tim Cook has been infatuated with augmented reality, and even more so after Pokémon Go became a widespread hit. "We are high on AR for the long run," Cook said in an earnings call back in July. "We think there are great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity."Overall, Tim Cook has been bullish on augmented reality. Earlier this year Apple hired up a high-profile AR expert from Microsoft's HoloLens team and purchased the pioneering AR and computer vision company Metaio back in 2015. Although Google Glass flopped hard and Snapchat's offering is more like a wearable camera than an AR device, there's a sense that Apple might actually be able to pull off a can't-live-without-it face computer. On the other hand, we're still waiting for those AirPods to arrive.

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