Apple Pondering the Power of Virtual Reality

by Matt Klassen on March 1, 2016

article_post_width_VR-3Is virtual reality the next transformative technology, or merely another niche market far too geeky for the general public? It’s a question that Silicon Valley heavyweights should be asking themselves, but as mounting evidence shows, it seems most companies are jumping into the uncharted waters of VR with both feet, brazenly optimistic that everyone will want to live in some sort of virtual world.

In fact, with several VR headsets already on the market and several others rumoured to be in development, speculation is mounting that Apple will look to throw its hat into the ring as well. According to reports, the Cupertino company has not-so-secretly assembled a crack team of VR specialists, applied for patents and acquired key start-ups, all evidence that a virtual reality headset may be Apple’s next big product.

But here’s the problem, no one seems to want VR tech. Like wearables before it, there are questions about whether or not the general public is ready and willing to embrace virtual reality as a part of their regular digital existence, and given Apple’s recent miscalculation with the Apple Watch, it has some wondering if Apple might be better to let the waters calm before diving in.

Recently Apple employees were spotted snooping around Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, an interesting tidbit given that, as lab operator Jeremy Bailenson noted, “Apple hasn’t come to my lab in 13 years….” Couple that with the report that Apple has already assembled a secret VR and augmented reality division, has made several key hires in that regard, and has scooped up four VR related start-ups, and there is some evidence, at least, that Apple sees virtual reality important enough to spend money on.

Further, consider that smartphone rival Samsung already has a VR headset on the market as part of its Gear package, and if there is any potential for virtual reality to stimulate a flagging smartphone market, Apple is sure to take it.

But that said, there are significant reasons for Apple to hold off on entering the VR market, the most important of which is whether or not anyone actually wants the technology.

Consider the Apple Watch, Apple’s first big entry in the wearables market. Now certainly Apple wasn’t the first to the wearables sector, but even when it arrived the entire segment was still in its infancy. While granted that Apple has since dominated the industry, accounting for half of smart watches shipped last year, that number alone says little about the growth of the market as a whole, and we still have yet to see if wearables will grow into a dominant industry, leaving the importance of the wearables industry as a whole very much up for debate.

Now consider that the virtual reality landscape is even more uncharted, with serious questions being asked about how many people may want such technology and whether there will be a dominant form factor that emerges. Confined now primarily to early adopters and niche gamers, perhaps Apple might be better served to hold off, or perhaps pursue augmented reality—digital images overlaid on the real world—as a stopgap measure until the market sorts itself out.

Briefly put, Apple is a disruptive force, but in the turbulent, uncharted waters of VR, such disruption may only serve to sink the entire endeavour.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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