Alasdair Coull of Wingnut AR showcases the possibilities of the new ARKit. (Apple photo)
At Apple's (AAPL) annual developer conference, there were a number of major announcements, including a new smart speaker, new Macs and the usual massive updates to Apple's various operating systems. While many of these are likely to get noticed by investors in hopes of improving sales immediately, there's one announcement that has stuck out that may wind up being the biggest of them all.
Apple is now the clear leader in augmented reality.
In a presentation that TechCrunch defined as "Apple just shipped everyone else's pipe dream," Apple showed off a new framework for augmented reality -- the lesser known cousin of virtual reality -- known as ARKit. This allows any developer to turn their apps into an augmented reality experience, putting virtual objects on top of real-world objects.
With its ARKit announcement, Apple is attempting to own a space that's likely to have well over 1 billion users and could generate $60 billion in revenue over the next four years, according to Digi-Capital.
There were a number of incredible demos of the technology, but the one that's likely to resonate with investors was the Pokemon Go demo.
Apple made the original Pokemon Go -- which still ranks in the top 20 in revenues in the App Store -- look like child's play. It refined the technology so that a Pikachu is actually sitting on the ground when you try to catch it, as opposed to floating in air. It's a groundbreaking experience that needs to be witnessed.
In launching ARKit, Apple will be the largest AR platform in the world, with hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads already out there supporting it, once the updates are available to everyone this fall. Facebook (FB) had made several important announcements about AR at its F8 conference earlier this year, but everything Apple showed off blows Facebook out of the water. And while the other tech giants, such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are incorporating AR into their platforms and services (Microsoft HoloLens for example), there is nothing to match the size and scope of what Apple has done.
In his weekly newsletter, Andreessen Horowitz analyst Benedict Evans said the announcement would be "hard for anyone without Apple's integrated model to match" because of the integration of hardware (Apple is rumored to be working on AR glasses) and software.
Because of ARKit, the next version of Pokemon Go will have a built-in user base the size of Apple's iPhones and iPad user base, letting developers reach scale almost immediately. It could help push augmented reality "forward significantly in terms of mainstream adoption," Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson wrote following the event.
More often than not, Apple has let markets develop before it enters them and takes the lion share of profits -- MP3 players, smartphones, tablets and so on. But with this approach to augmented reality, Apple is the clear leader from both a hardware and software perspective and developers will flock to it like crazy, looking to build the next Pokemon Go.
And when that happens, Apple CEO Tim Cook's bullishness on AR, (he likened its importance to "eating three meals a day") will be more than vindicated.