Tim Cook believes augmented reality (AR) is the future. But as Apple’s September 12 Special Event demonstrates, the company is not taking the world by storm with splashy roll-outs of AR products. Instead, Apple is steadily advancing the uptake of AR in a more low-key, nuanced way. But make no mistake: AR is coming, and Apple intends to lead the way.

AR Usage Growing

AR overlays digital content on to a physical space, usually through a device such as a mobile phone. Applications of augmented reality range from entertainment (such as the Pokémon GO game) to training. According to eMarketer, more than 54.4 million Americans are expected to be using AR by 2019, up from 30.7 million. Tim Cook has stated often that AR is an essential technology fueling the growth of businesses in multiple industries. As he said at an event hosted by the University of Oxford, “I can see uses for it in education, in consumers, in entertainment, in sports. I can see it in every business that I know anything about.”

No Big Bang — Yet

Apple watchers have been watching for signs that the company will deliver on Cook’s enthusiastic support by launching big-bang products such as AR-enabled glasses that will do for AR what the iPhone did for mobility. And Apple could very well launch an AR product. For now, though, Apple is laying the pipes in far less glamorous but equally important ways, such as the development of ARKit (and then ARKit 2) to develop apps on top of AR. In recent days Apple has rolled out more developments such as the launch of a better operating system, iOS 12, to provide better performance support for AR experiences.  Shopify already announced an AR shopping experience that relies on the new iOS.

In addition, at Apple’s September 12 Special Event, the company reminded us that AR is all about better experiences to improve how we live whether we’re training or entertaining ourselves. For example, a new iPhone app, HomeCourt, uses AR for basketball training, and a new gaming experience, Galaga AR, takes the popular Galga game to a new level of immersion.

What’s Next?

For AR to break through as Tim Cook hopes it will, we need to see more announcements about applications such as Shopify’s own AR experience to improve tasks we do often as part of our everyday lives, whether we are shopping or working around the house. More than 13 million apps using ARKit have been downloaded, and half of them are games.  AR has a long, long way to go for people to use it repeatedly. Apple is wise to focus on creating the foundation for AR usage in a more measured way.

For more insight into the future of AR, check out The Executive Guide to Immersive Reality, published by Moonshot. And let us know how you’re applying augmented reality.

Saul Delage

Saul Delage

VP Growth