Apple's iPhone has seen up and down performance -- unit sales plummeting last year only to rebound to new records in the last quarter of 2016 -- investors have been nervous. Everything depends on the success of the company's smartphone as nothing else since its introduction has shown itself possible of driving that level of sales success. The ever-present magic has left the room.
That makes Apple's investors nervous, as well as entrepreneurs who build products to ride the coattails of success. According to a Bloomberg story on Monday, they should brace themselves because augmented reality will be Apple's next big thing. However, before entrepreneurs in the tech space try to figure out their angle, they should consider whether the story is accurate or another of the many PR fakes Apple has pulled over the years.
The opening from the Bloomberg piece sounds beguiling, relying on sources "with knowledge of the company's plans."
Tim Cook has talked up a lot of technologies since becoming Apple Inc.'s chief executive in 2011. Driverless cars. Artificial intelligence. Streaming television. But no technology has fired up Cook quite like augmented reality, which overlays images, video and games on the real world. Cook has likened AR's game-changing potential to that of the smartphone. At some point, he said last year, we will all "have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you."
Exciting, yes, but probably a big distraction. Although the interest in and importance of AR technology is growing, there are a number of reasons to question whether this story is real or some kind of misdirecting plant.
Apple's manipulation of the press
>p>Over the years, the company has regularly played tech coverage, whether to misdirect competitors from what it was doing or to scare them off from a new area. First rumors of what would be the Apple Watch came out three years before the product. This Bloomberg story isn't the first it has produced about AR ties. Last fall there was the discussion of Apple smartglasses. If something is going to hit, expect it to be down the line a year or two or three. This probably isn't something to immediately jump on.
Even if it were, Apple has had a number of relative flops, at least when measured by the iPhone's success. Even the iPad has seen declining unit sales over time. Apple Watch has never made it big on the same scale.
Apple rarely makes the market
Apple had success with the iPhone, but it took a year or so for things to really start taking off. The only reason they could was that the groundwork for mobile phone acceptance was already long done. People were ready for a cooler, slicker, more capable device, but many were accustomed to carrying a phone in their pocket.
The iPod followed a similar pattern. There were already devices to play digital music. The company improved on the idea but actually with a reference design from a group of companies whose products it incorporated. There is no similar current mass market for augmented reality.
AR needs more than niche reasons to exist
There is growth in AR at larger companies. Having information available in a heads-up display can be useful through an increase in productivity.
However, AR for consumers has yet to really begin taking off. Part of the issue is technology acceptance. Relatively few people are ready to wear gear on their heads, or be around those who do. Google Glasses users ran into trouble time and again when those around them objected to the perceived invasion of privacy in unpredictably being on a video camera.
Some companies have offered AR apps, for example, to let people about to buy furniture or appliances see how they might look in their homes. Pokémon Go was a big hit, but how many people do you see playing it these days? As the game showed, there are also potential liability problems when people pay attention to a computer display and not their immediate surroundings.
Of course Apple is working on augmented reality. But if you want to know where its future really lies, you'd probably have to get entry into the company's secretive development labs, which isn't going to happen. Entrepreneurs should keep an eye on AR technology for a number of reasons, but following on an Apple-related hit isn't in the immediate works.