Apple is working with renowned optics firm Carl Zeiss to develop AR (Augmented Reality) glasses that could hit shelves before the year is out. This is what tech industry insider Robert Scoble claims, based on claims made by loose-lipped Zeiss empoyees, who confirmed the rumors that Apple and Carl Zeiss AG are working on a light pair of augmented reality/mixed reality glasses that may be announced this year. (I thought it was next year but now that I saw this I believe it will happen this year).
Both Apple and Carl Zeiss have, predictably, declined to comment. However, we know that Apple is interested in AR because CEO Tim Cook has himself talked openly about it.
This isn't the first time that Scoble has claimed that Apple was working on AR with Zeiss. There was the time that he claimed that he was "100% sure the next iPhone is clear."
OK, back to the AR glasses/goggles. Will these be the big thing in 2017?
Rather than dismiss the claims out of hand, let's look instead at the pros and cons (although it's hard to come up with any really compelling "pro" arguments).
- Apple needs a new hit product to take up some of the slack from iPhone sales.
- We know AR is on Apple's radar based on past comments made by Cook.
- It's a hot area that companies are flocking to.
- AR would open up a new app market.
- AR doesn't have to mean glasses or goggles. A heads-up display in a car or holding up a smartphone and having the display show information on your surroundings are both AR. It is important to remember this.
- The products that have launched into the AR marketspace haven't been overwhelmingly successful. How big of a market is there really for AR/VR (Virtual Reality) at present?
- Apple's ecosystem right now revolves around the iPhone (yes, iPhone, not Mac). A new class of product that sits outside of this would be a distraction unless Apple was almost guaranteed of its success.
- Strategically, it doesn't make much sense for Apple to crowd the marketplace with a new product. Apple's lineup is arguably already cluttered.
- Apple's big 2017 product will be the iPhone 8 (or whatever it ends up being called). Anything that distracts from that this year could be a bad move for Apple.
- It's likely that Apple's response to the growing VR/AR trend will be to add that capability to the iPhone because that makes sense on a number of fronts (it's a new feature to sell the iPhone, it's not a whole new class of product to push, it helps keep the ecosystem tight).
The bottom line:
It's all a balancing act. On the one hand, it's easy to think that Apple needs a new product to take the edge off the iPhone sales slump, and AR wearables are what the cool kids are all taking about, so it seems logical.
The flipside is that new products move the focus away from existing products, and this might not be such a clever move given that Apple wants people to be buying iPhones, since that's where the company's biggest chunk of dollars still comes from.
The most logical move would be for Apple to make the iPhone the center of its AR aspirations.