Apple has just announced an absolutely huge amount of content at their annual WWDC this year, with one of the most exciting bits being official support for AR and VR technologies. And while the company entering the market may seem like a late launch to some, it could very well be the boost that the technology needs to see long term success in the market. So why is it so important that the computing giant is getting involved in the tech? Stick with us as we dive into what Apple could do for the future of VR.
A wider reach
In the past, full-fledged virtual reality experiences have been largely restricted to Windows devices. SteamVR was limited to the Windows platform with specific hardware requirements in order to keep frame rates high and deliver a more fully-fledged experience, and Apple just wasn’t able to deliver the hardware necessary to keep these VR experiences running to their full potential. This created an issue for HMD developers, as they were naturally limited to a large portion of the computer hardware market. From desktop experiences to mobile notebooks, the MacOS experience was completely separated from the world of virtual reality. With MacOS present on 21 million devices and iOS reaching into 276 million pockets in 2015 alone, this is an absolutely massive market of customers that have been restricted from the world of VR.
The Apple ecosystem is very immersive. Many of the services present on MacOS are created to work seamlessly with iOS as well. Because of this, owning either an Apple computer or mobile handset encourages the user to own the other device as well. With the sheer amount of iPhones you see on the street, it’s quite evident that AR and VR support from Apple is going to widen the technology’s reach to an extreme level. And with most VR technologies being restricted to Windows users for so long now, users of Apple’s ecosystem can finally start considering VR as a platform.
With AR and VR support coming to Apple devices, the incentive for developers to actually work on AR and VR applications is much higher than ever before. Developing something that can only reach a small part of an already segmented market is a very risky move, and Apple joining the bandwagon means developers can develop applications knowing they will be able to reach audiences who use Windows and Mac computers alike.
One huge problem for virtual reality is that not very many people really know what it’s like. When you see a VR game on a 2D screen, it looks just like any other video game you’ve played. Until you’ve had the opportunity to actually try on a headset and see what VR is capable of, it’s hard to understand just how immersive and incredible the tech really is.
While up until now only those with capable hardware could actually go out and use something like an HTC Vive in their home, at least those with upgradable Windows machines had the opportunity to make that happen. If you tried VR and loved it but owned a Mac, you were sorely out of luck. Your only option would be to go out and buy a PC capable of supporting the technology, which added up to a huge sum of money for such a specific use case.
We still don’t know if Apple is planning on showing off VR technologies in their stores, but if they did the potential could be absolutely huge for the VR industry. Apple stores are some of the busiest ‘window shopping’ stores in the world, with thousands of customers cycling in and out of them daily to try out all the new products Apple has in store. If Apple began showing off the HTC Vive on the new iMac in their stores, it would be an overwhelmingly positive force to drive sales of the new iMac as well as HTC Vive, and would help spur development of VR all over the world.
External GPU support
With MacOS High Sierra, Apple is finally officially supporting external GPU solutions. This means those with older hardware will have the ability to go out and buy the one component they need to make VR work effectively: a GPU. This dramatically reduces the cost of entry for VR, and opens up a world of opportunity to those who have wanted to use it but weren’t able to. Since a huge number of devices will be getting the upgrade to the new operating system, most all these systems should theoretically have the ability to run VR solutions, assuming they have a CPU powerful enough.
Apple is already quite ready for e-GPU support, too. Since they started supporting Thunderbolt 3 through USB Type-C, tweakers have been working hard to get existing e-GPU enclosures working on Mac devices. Apple’s Macbooks have been some of the only laptops to support all 4 PCIe lanes to handle almost all the bandwidth available from the GPU, so official support is awesome for people that don’t want to use the sketchy tweaks necessary to get their e-GPUs working smoothly.
The “Apple Stamp of Approval”
When a company develops both the hardware and the software for their ecosytem, some magical things can happen. Consumers put their trust in Apple for this very reason, since effective software is crucial to drive sales of their devices. For this reason, Apple has traditionally been very hesitant to support products that they can’t control compatibility for. This leads them to often be a year or two behind their competition in terms of features, but the issues present on their devices have traditionally been much more minimal than an ecosystem that allows software to run on just about any manufacturer’s device.
This business tactic has led to the consumer vision that Apple products “just work”, which is true in quite a lot of cases. That isn’t to say other OS’ don’t work as well, but consumers have much less to worry about when they buy the product because they know Apple will support it and fix it if they do have problems. This is the tradeoff that customers make when buying a product from Apple versus the competition, and if Apple has decided to officially support something, many consumers feel more comfortable using these devices.
With the HTC Vive now making an official appearance on the Apple website, it’s clear that the company is finally ready to jump straight in to VR technologies. The company even brought in some representatives from LucasFilm’s Industrial Light and Magic to show how amazing VR can be, and that alone is something that is going to get consumers interested in VR. If consumers are confident that Apple is ready for VR, they will be more than willing to try it out themselves.
Apple’s ARKit makes it easier than ever for developers to introduce high-fidelity AR applications which are all based on Apple’s fully supported code base. This opens up an entirely new market for app developers interested in pursuing augmented reality, and will likely spark a new race to create the most interesting and fluid AR applications out there. With apps like Pokemon Go showcasing what can be done with high quality AR, it’s only a matter of time before the market becomes flooded with apps looking to cash in on the early market hype.
Existing apps can also use ARKit to build in AR support for their applications, so companies like IKEA could potentially build in things like AR furniture testing. This introduces a huge number of new use cases to the technology which is sure to spur development on the platform, so we will likely be seeing many more AR applications hit the market in the near future.
The future was already looking quite bright for AR and VR technologies before Apple’s WWDC keynote, but in a now Apple supported world it is only looking brighter. In a lot of ways, Apple has the power to help AR and VR succeed, and the sheer marketing power they possess could help developer virtual applications ever than before.
What’s your stance on Apple’s support of VR and AR tech? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.