Tim Cook sniffs at metaverse; gives the nod to AR

Apple will see you now and the world around you

Kathleen Maher

The metaverse is hot stuff right now, and there are big companies and big bucks chasing the idea. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is not one of them. 

During a recent tour through Europe, Tim Cook said in an interview with Dutch news outlet Bright, that he sees more immediate opportunity in AR. He expressed interest in the ability of AR to wander freely with Apple’s technology… given the right pair of smart glasses. He expressed interest in immersive applications, but absolutely is in no hurry. When asked about the metaverse, he punted, saying, “I always think it’s important that people understand what something is. And I’m really not sure the average person can tell you what the metaverse is.”

The metaverse has become yoked to VR, and Cook doesn’t see VR as a technology regular people will want to engage with long term. He says VR is “something you can really immerse yourself in. And that can be used in a good way. But I don’t think you want to live your whole life that way.”

Many smart tech people agree that AR is the technology of the future, but it sure isn’t the tech of the present. It’s perplexing. When Niantic introduced Pokémon Go in 2016, we at JPR (and everyone else) recognized the arrival of AR to popular culture and predicted AR apps in every pocket by the year 2017, 2018… surely by 2020.

The phones are now almost universally equipped to create and present AR content. Apple has been threatening their killer AR/VR headset every year since probably 2016. Adobe has added AR to its portfolio with Dimension and Aero. Apple is goosing the market with AR content creation tools and particular support for the open USDZ AR format.

Apple’s support for USDZ has helped to make the format a standard tool for AR creation, which is at least one major requirement. Apple’s support extends to the development of ARKit as well as development guides. Other tools include Google’s ARCore, PTC’s Vuforia, Wikitude, and plenty more, all with good cross-platform support. 

In other words, the usual barriers to market have already fallen. There are affordable tools, SDKs, open formats, instructional tools. So, what’s the holdup? 

Why aren’t you watching 3D content on TV in your living room? You could have, there were attractively priced TVs available, and a reasonable amount of content introduced around 2010. The glasses were nothing more than custom sunglasses. Still, that huge industry push was met with a resounding ho hum. 

The trickiest part is the headset, and so far, there are none that check all the boxes for consumers. And pardon me for asking, but you do know that Apple prefers catering to consumers rather than professionals—albeit consumers willing to pay top dollar, of which there are a surprising amount (and may be called prosumers by some). People don’t like looking like a dork, with a machine on their head. 

Apple may have all the technology lined up for a killer headset, including a small, powerful processor, but the company will patiently let the competition run into the line of fire, and when one or two companies manage to field a headset people will wear in public, Apple’s designers will take the best of those designs and field a product. Right now the closest company to that pole position is Nreal.

AR does have plenty of running room, but Cook’s vision eventually demands consumer-like spectacles. 

Apple watchers are expecting the company to introduce a mixed-reality headset in the near future. Supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of TF International Securities (@mingchikuo) has predicted via Twitter that Apple will introduce a mixed-reality headset in January 2023. Kuo has strong contacts in Taiwan who give him information on designs in progress. However, that was in June. This is now, and Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta has just introduced a new headset that looks to be as successful as all of Meta’s other headsets—not so hot. It seems as if Mark Zuckerberg can’t really describe the metaverse either. 

No doubt Apple is trying out plenty of options for MR glasses, but it’s hard to imagine them being in much of a hurry.

The reason why AR is so promising is its flexibility; its ability to offer spontaneous experiences that combine the real world as seen through a mobile phone screen, tablet, or, maybe, glasses and an informative or entertaining layer of 3D content overlayed and possibly integrated with this real-world view. The apps are out there. Translators, home décor visualization tools, automotive simulators, etc., and they don’t require headsets. 
If you find AR as fascinating and promising as we do, you should check out Jon’s book on it.

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