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Tim Cook says AR will be way bigger than VR

Published Oct 14th, 2016 11:23AM EDT
iPhone 8 Features Augmented Reality
Image: Jonathan Geller, BGR

Virtual reality (VR) is exploding right now. The PlayStation VR just launched for the PS4, and there are other interesting products out there, including Facebook’s Oculus, and HTC’s Vive. But Apple will have none of it, as it thinks the future is elsewhere: augmented reality (AR).

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The problem with VR is that it keeps users tethered to a machine, vastly limiting their options.

Apple, which makes popular personal devices like iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, would rather have technology serve you without hindering your experience, or substituting real human contact.

“There’s no substitute for human contact,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told BuzzFeed News in an interview. “And so you want the technology to encourage that.”

“VR, I think, has some interesting applications, but I don’t think it’s a broad-based technology like AR,” Cook added. “Augmented reality will take some time to get right, but I do think that it’s profound. We might … have a more productive conversation, if both of us have an AR experience standing here, right? And so I think that things like these are better when they’re incorporated without becoming a barrier to our talking. … You want the technology to amplify it, not to be a barrier.”

Apple is very secretive regarding its future products, but this isn’t the first time Cook has praised AR. Apple is very likely to come up with AR features for its products, particularly the iPhone.

With a massive iPhone redesign set for 2017, when Apple celebrates ten years of iPhone, Apple AR might make an official debut aboard the iPhone 8. There’s nothing official to support this year, but AR could be a defining feature for next year’s iPhone.

As BuzzFeed explains, the wheels are already in motion. Apple is cooking some AR products, only it’s not clear what they are. Certain acquisitions suggest Apple is working on AR, including PrimeSense (made the motion captures for the original Kinect), Metaio (German AR firm), and Faceshift (responsible for the real-time motion capture technology used in Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

Furthermore, the company has patents that reveal Apple is studying AR and VR technology. Apple has also hired several engineers with experience in AR, including Yury Petrov (Facebook Oculus), Zeyu Li (Magic Leap), and Doug Bowman (Virginia Tech Cube).

And while Apple won’t comment on future products, Business Insider remarked an interesting fact about Tim Cook. He likes to tease future products. Cook was talking about the potentials of the wrist a year before Apple announced the Watch. And he did say that Apple is working on AR features “behind the curtain” before this recent interview.

Finally, the technology inside the iPhone 7, the second-gen Apple Watch, and the AirPods suggests that such products would be ready for AR features. These are spatially aware gadgets that could accommodate AR features.

This quote, in particular, is very telling: “We might … have a more productive conversation, if both of us have an AR experience standing here, right?” Cook said. How could two people have an AR experience during an interview that could happen practically anywhere? With the help of the devices, they’d be most likely to carry: smartphones like the iPhones, wearables like the Watch, and accessories, like the AirPods.

That said, there’s nothing to suggest that the iPhone 8 is getting AR features from Apple next year. But it certainly looks like AR could be the defining feature of Apple’s next-gen phone.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.