Fighting Reality, The Chosen Battlegrounds Of Apple And Microsoft – Forbes

Augmented Reality has been talked about by futurologists as ‘the next big thing’ for some time. Tthe major players are ready to make 2017 the year where AR breaks through. Microsoft, Google and Facebook are already hard at work promoting their systems. Now the elephant in the room has decided to join the game.

Let’s look at Apple’s approach and compare it to one of its established rivals in the AR space.

Attendees wait for the start of the 2017 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Last week’s Worldwide Developer Conference saw Apple announce ARkit. This provides iOS developers a software toolkit to create AR experiences in iOS for the iPhone and iPad machines, using the sensors in the hardware to position the device, the camera for external input, and the screen for showing the results.

Many consumers will be familiar with this concept through Pokemon Go, where you could see the Pokemon on screen as you looked around the vicinity. With the arrival of ARkit, developers should not only find it far easier to create experiences like this in their applications, but also find it far easier to transfer these skills to further applications.

Apple will be hoping that its easily-accessible AR tools, coupled with a large installed base of iOS devices and an easy route to market will be attractive to developers looking to work with AR. While the hardware may not be dedicated to AR, there are rather a lot of iOS devices out there that have enough processing power and sensors to pull of Tim Cook’s vision of AR – and that’s before we see what the latest iPhone may launch with in 2017 (place your bets now on easy access to ‘six degrees of freedom’ which significantly helps AR devices).

For developers, Apple’s solution is the mass-market option that AR needs to break through and become accepted in the way that GPS and personal navigation did (and smartwatches arguably didn’t). ARkit offers developers a high volume of devices to reach out to, but with lower revenue potential thanks to consumer expectations around App Store pricing.

Apple of course is looking to swamp the AR ecosystem with the sheer weight of numbers in both the apps (where it takes a thirty percent slice of the income) and being able to count every iOS device as an AR device.

Microsoft HoloLens (photo: Ewan Spence)

Ewan Spence

Microsoft HoloLens (photo: Ewan Spence)

Microsoft is taking a different approach. Its AR strategy is built around bespoke hardware that provides a screen in front of a users eye where information can be overlaid. Project HoloLens is also in its infancy but is already making itself a valuable addition in enterprise and specialist environments.

I’ve highlighted before the use of HoloLens by thyssenkruup’s engineering team both for training and allowing  in-situ engineers to call on back room support and information while they are on call. Schematics, advice, and a supervisor watching the repair as it is in process have all improved the efficiency of its team. HoloLens is already working and providing value for customers.

If you want the highest-flying application of HoloLens, look up. There’s one on the International Space Station so the work of the astronauts can be observed and guided by ground control.

Microsoft has two advantages in the AR market. The first is that its system is already out there being used in the real world, and that offers priceless data and feedback. The second is that rather than going for a populist approach it is focusing on the enterprise market. Those offer a much lower volume in terms of unit sales, but offer much higher margins and revenue, along with ongoing support contracts.

Other realities are available, asan Apple employee helps a member of the media try the HTC Vive’s VR capabilities powered by the new iMac  (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Microsoft is looking towards the enterprise markets, while Apple is focusing on the wider developer base and hoping it will push AR towards the consumer through the App Store. Both approaches are valid, and the delight is that both can succeed without necessarily weakening the other. Yet the competition between the two systems (along with the efforts from the likes of Google and Facebook) will allow for more iteration, faster progress and increasing awareness of AR.

The futurologists may be right.

Now read about my experiences with Microsoft’s HoloLens…

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