Published on January 27th, 2021 | by Emergent Enterprise0
What Apple’s First Mixed Reality Headset will Mean for Enterprises
How has your company handled transformative technology in the past? The internet? Smartphones? Tablets? This post by Jeremy Horwitz at VentureBeat gives some pertinent advice for enterprise strategy regarding mixed reality tech in light of recent Apple AR/VR rumors. There is no doubt that mixed reality devices will be more ubiquitous and accessible in the next 1-3 years. So, just like forethought was needed for those other technologies, the time is now for companies to build an AR/VR game plan. This strategy can involve use case scenarios, prototypes, and budget and scalability projections. However it is executed, the Apple rumblings prove that smart companies need to be prepared for the inevitable device launches and avoid playing catch-up.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Over the past five years, the clear trend in mixed reality headsets has been “smaller, better, and more affordable,” a process that has yielded multi-million-selling success stories such as Sony’s PlayStation VR and Facebook’s Oculus Quests, alongside an array of niche headsets targeted largely at enterprises. For consumers, the pitch has been simple — wear this headset and teleport to another place — but for enterprises, particularly data-driven ones, adoption has been slower. High prices, narrower use cases, and “build it yourself” software challenges have limited uptake of enterprise mixed reality headsets, though that hasn’t stopped some companies from finding use cases, or deterred even the largest tech companies from developing hardware.
Apple’s mixed reality headset development has been an open secret for years, and its plans are coming into sharper focus today, as Bloomberg reports that Apple will begin by releasing a deliberately niche and expensive headset first, preparing developers and the broader marketplace for future lightweight AR glasses. This is similar to the “early access launch” strategy we suggested one year ago, giving developers the ability to create apps for hardware that’s 80% of the way to commercially viable; high pricing and a developer/enterprise focus will keep average consumers away, at least temporarily.
For technical decision makers, today’s report should be a wake-up call — a signal that after tentative steps and false starts, mixed reality is about to become a big deal, and enterprises will either need to embrace the technologies or get left behind. Regardless of whether a company needs smarter ways for employees to visualize and interact with masses of data or more engrossing ways to present data, products, and services to customers, mixed reality is clearly the way forward. But the devil is in the details, and Apple’s somewhat confusing approach might seem daunting for some enterprises and developers. Here’s how it’s likely to play out.
Mixed reality, not just virtual or augmented reality
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are subsets of the broader concept of “mixed reality,” which refers to display and computing technologies that either enhance or fully replace a person’s view of the physical world with digitally generated content. It’s easy to get mired in the question of whether Apple is focusing on VR or AR, but the correct answer is “both,” and a given product will be limited largely by its display and camera technologies.
At this point, Apple reportedly plans to start with a headset primarily focused on virtual reality, with only limited augmented reality functionality. This sounds a lot like Facebook’s Oculus Quest, which spends most of its time engrossing users in fully virtual worlds, but can use integrated cameras to let users see basic digital overlays augmenting their actual surroundings. It’s unclear what Apple’s intended VR-to-AR ratio will be for customers, but the company has repeatedly said that it views AR as the bigger opportunity, and if the headset’s being targeted at a high price point, it’s clearly not going to be positioned as a gaming or mass-market entertainment VR product. The initial focus will almost certainly be on enterprise VR and AR applications.
It’s worth mentioning that a well-funded startup called Magic Leap favored the term “spatial computing” as a catchall for mixed reality technologies, and though the company had major issues commercializing its hardware, it envisioned a fully portable platform that could be used indoors or outdoors to composite digital content atop the physical world. Apple appears to be on roughly the same page, with a similar level of ambition, though it looks unlikely to replicate the specifics of Magic Leap’s hardware decisions.
Standalone, not tethered
As Apple’s mixed reality projects have simmered in development, there’s been plenty of ambiguity over whether the first headset would be tethered to another device (iPhone or Mac) or completely standalone. Tethering enables a headset to be lighter in weight but requires constant proximity to a wired computing device — a challenge Facebook’s Oculus Rift tackled with a Windows PC, Magic Leap One addressed with an oversized puck, and Nreal Light answered with an Android phone. Everyone believes that the eventual future of mixed reality is in standalone devices, but making small, powerful, cool-running chips that fit inside “all-in-one” headsets has been a challenge.