You may not know it, but the technological battle of this century is about to begin.
Late last year, Meta’s Mark Zukerberg laid out his vision for what he saw as the Metaverse, with a focus on virtual reality. In his world, people worked, met, learned, and played in an immersive 3D VR world. Indeed, with an investment of nearly $10 billion, Zuckerberg has bet Meta’s future on VR.
This week at the Meta Developers’ Conference, Zuckerberg also showed off a form of mixed reality introduced with their new Quest Pro headset (priced at $1499) that includes augmented reality/MR capabilities tied to their Horizon workspaces. . But its most important vision is clearly focused on VR headsets and delivering immersive experiences as part of its defined vision of a 3D VR world.
Apple has instead bet on the ground around augmented reality, where a person can wear some form of goggles and live in a world where information, data, games, etc., are layered and visually augmented on top of experiences. of the real world. In this case, an open environment versus a closed environment that Zuckerberg proposed.
In 2017, right after Apple showed off AR Kit at WWDC, I chatted with Tim Cook at a private party, where I asked him about his commitment to AR. He said he thinks Apple providing AR could be one of Apple’s “greatest contributions” to the world in the future.
Considering Apple’s legacy of significant technological contributions with the world-changing iPhone, Cook’s AR statement was pretty sensational.
However, Tim Cook had a broader view of integrating virtual digital technology into our natural world shortly after Mark Zuckerberg began charting Meta’s quest (pun intended) to dominate his definition of the Metaverse by putting emphasis on virtual reality in a virtual world.
Tim Cook’s recent comments basically reaffirmed what he told me back in 2017.
In an interview published Friday by Dutch media Bright, Cook called AR – in which virtual objects are superimposed on the real world, through glasses or a smartphone – “a transformational technology that will soon be as ubiquitous as a smartphone or the internet.”
“I think AR is a profound technology that will affect everything…we’re really going to look back and think about how we once lived without AR.”—Tim Cook
To some extent, Mark Zuckerberg has telegraphed a similar thought in that he envisions immersive 3D experiences through personal avatars. These avatars can represent one’s personality at work, in communication, gaming, and learning in a VR headset that transports an individual into virtual worlds.
Zuckerberg and Meta have bet $10 billion on this company, and he appears to be betting the company’s future on virtual reality.
Apple also has a substantial investment in its AR strategy. However, given its huge success with the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, Apple sees AR as a new frontier that will draw more people into its hardware, software, and services ecosystem. So while this is a big bet that Cook suggests will be transformational in the same way the iPhone was, it’s less about betting Apple’s future on AR than expand Apple’s sphere of influence.
Although I have stated that this could be the battle of the century so far and has major ramifications for both companies, the biggest question I often get is who wins this battle? To some extent, both could have winning strategies, but it’s clear that millions more people will embrace Apple’s AR strategy than Meta’s VR program.
For one thing, VR headsets will be the most expensive device to deliver Meta’s immersive 3D experience. More importantly, it will likely be a smaller audience that will incorporate VR into their lifestyle. To date, VR headsets have gained the most traction with gamers and in vertical markets such as manufacturing, field service, medical and industrial simulations.
As the following chart shows, the appeal of VR so far has been generational driven, with older users not being as interested in VR as younger audiences.
Currently, we don’t have much information about the adoption of augmented reality, as very few true AR headsets are available. However, where AR is used today, it is primarily used in vertical markets such as field service, surveying, and physical parameter field analysis.
As Tim Cook points out, augmented reality, which overlays information on the physical environment, will have much wider appeal. We’ve already seen how companies like Ikea have used AR Kit apps on the iPhone to overlay furniture in an actual room, giving people a taste of how AR could work.
Apple is building an AR headset or glasses that integrate this type of experience into everyday lifestyles. This provides enhanced data about the physical environment and should be much more appealing to a wider audience than a closed VR experience where being stationary will be a key dimension of any VR experience.
In truth, both approaches will find an audience; however, I feel that Apple could sell AR glasses at a 50 to 1 ratio to VR headsets almost as soon as it is introduced.
And that may be a low estimate considering the feedback I get from people I respect who have the same question about Meta vs Apple’s approach to the Metaverse.
Another thing about Apple bodes well for their entry into the so-called Metaverse. Apple has a habit of not inventing new devices or categories, but once they see a new device and category evolve, they come in with a better solution. This includes innovative designs of said devices and includes easy-to-use software and services. For example, Apple didn’t invent MP3 players yet dominated this market when it entered with the iPod. They didn’t invent the smartphone, but the iPhone was a revolutionary device that still generates the highest revenue in this category. In addition, Apple did not invent tablets, but it is also the one that generates the most revenue in this category for Apple.
Along the same lines, Apple didn’t invent virtual reality or augmented reality, but if history is any guide, Apple will innovate with an easy-to-use form of headset that includes apps and services. This will most likely be the biggest winner in the quest to bring the most people into some form of virtual world experiences.
Moreover, if Tim Cook is right, Apple’s influence in this part of the market will be transformational, and as he points out, “ We’re really going to look back and reflect on how we once lived without AR.”