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Is 2020 The Year of AR?
6 min read

Is 2020 The Year of AR?

Is 2020 The Year of AR?

Augmented Reality, or AR, has been a bit of a buzz phrase within Apple for years now. The framework / platform was introduced in iOS 11, in the Autumn of 2017 and has had a mention, or demo, in almost every Apple event since.

It’s clear that Apple sees a future in AR, and while many people in my echo chamber seem to be on the fence, I’m well and truly behind Apple on this one.

AR in 2020

Currently, despite my statement above, I generally don’t touch AR apps or games in their current form. Holding up an iPhone or iPad, whilst trying to navigate a game world can be tricky, and I find myself quickly losing any sense of immersion when I attempt it.

That being said, Apple has not let go of the technology and have doggedly promoted and improved upon it across the product portfolio. Despite the slightly jarring implementation currently, there are some good examples of AR really adding to an experience rather than detracting from it. Some interesting examples of the current iteration of AR are:

  • Pokemon Go / Harry Potter Wizards Unite While I, again, will generally have the AR mode off it does add a nice layer of fun when switches on
  • Apple Arcade - There are a few examples of Apple Arcade games embracing AR such as Secret Oops! and Rosie’s Reality.
  • Educational Apps - There are too many to list here, but the App Store is full of really great AR-based educational experiences from the big bang to frog dissection.

While these are some interesting use cases, AR in 2020 is still restricted to pointing your device around the room / world like a madman. The best experience can be found with a bigger screen, but using something like a 12.9” iPad Pro looks more impressive to you, to everyone else you look like an even bigger plum than before, with added arm ache to boot.

To truly move AR forward, it seems to be universally accepted that a pair of glasses / a headset is going to be required and rumours have been circulating for years that Apple are on the precipice of releasing just that. Historically Apple have rarely entered a product category first. They generally observe the competition, iterate on their original concept and release a more mature and robust product when they feel it’s the right time to do so. In this category, however, while there are some basic examples available, Apple seem to be in the best position amongst the big tech giants to be the first to market. They’ve been laying the groundwork for this for years and I’m so excited for what may be around the corner. I’m with Tim, who recently said:

My view is it’s the next big thing, and it will pervade our entire lives.

Hardware

This is the part of a post like this where the writer inserts a really cool rendering of some expected / hoped for Apple AR Glasses design. Unfortunately, for me, this is beyond my skill set, so you’re going to have to make do with looking at some interesting designs / ideas created by others:

As you can see from this eclectic mix of designs, we really have no idea  what these mythical Apple AR glasses may look like, but that hasn’t stopped numerous thought pieces, mock-ups and speculations from running rampant.

This is a pretty cool concept / marketing video from late last year:

The fact we have no concrete idea of what these things may look like doesn’t mean they aren’t imminent. As Venturebeat recently reported it’s possible that Apple’s AR offering will receive an ‘Apple Watch-style early access launch’. Jeremy Horwitz wrote:

Launching early without features that would benefit a second-generation model (and become standard in all future versions) didn’t hurt the Apple Watch, which subsequently became better and more mainstream each year. Nor did it hurt the iPad, which similarly shipped to a somewhat skeptical initial audience before rocketing to success in later generations.

I completely agree with this view. While the Series 0 Apple Watch was a pretty painful experience, it was quickly iterated on and has gone on to becoming a much loved product, which is more popular than even the mighty iPod was at its peak.

Having a device on your face is always going to be more of an ask than a Watch, or any other device. As a glasses wearer, however, I’m long past this concern. For me, all Apple need to do initially is to make something that looks as close as possible to conventional glasses. Some slight added functionality, initially, added to something I’m already wearing would be a massive win as far as I’m concerned.

Applications of AR

Now, let’s assume that the simple task of the hardware had been taken care of. The next big question is: What would you use them for? No one is going to buy a pair of Apple Glasses just to play Pokemon Go, apart from maybe this guy. To me, I think there a multitude of really interesting use cases for such a device. On Apple’s recent earnings call, CEO Tim Cook said:

You rarely have a new technology where business and consumer both see it as key to them.

I completely agree with this statement. Off the top of my head, I can see AR glasses being really helpful for:

  • Navigation - Almost everyone has used their phone for navigation whilst driving, or walking.
  • Gaming - While I’ve already stated that no one will buy this just for games like Pokemon Go, this is a device that could potentially be a game changer[1] for this medium. The iPhone, like the early Apple Watch devices before it, can still drive the bulk of the processing with the glasses acting as the display the device. The strange feeling of doing this whilst waving an iPad around a room would evaporate completely. I’ve recently picked up an Oculus Quest VR headset and despite being a fantastic experience the face you’re completely blind and blocked out from the world is hard to shake. AR, as opposed to VR, will again strip away this restrictive barrier. The technology lends itself far better to a social experience than the very much isolating experience of VR.
  • Education - I’ve already said there are a lot of educational apps currently available, but the potential applications, and subsequent engagement, afforded by AR are huge.

Beyond these top-level uses, there is still so much potential to explore. A LinkedIn app that could help you identify associates at a conference, a review app that can overlay restaurant / shop reviews over the venue as you glance at it. The possibilities really are endless and, again, as someone that wears something on my face all day anyway, even 10% of this potential is making what I’m already wearing more functional and beneficial to me.

It’s not all rose-tinted glasses

While I’ve gone to lengths to highlight some positive elements to AR, any headset from Apple would have a very fine line to walk between function and privacy. I agree and like Apple’s current stance on privacy, but they have painted themselves into a corner with this mentality and it’s already showing signs of holding them back in areas that others are pushing, such as AI. These glasses, will, I assume, need to include some cameras to function. I would assume Apple would not open them up recording, though it may be a challenge to get non-early adopters to accept that.

Whether we will see Apple Glasses in 2020, or ever, is still yet to be decided. When they do come, however, you can be sure I’ll be at the front of the queue, cash card in hand.


  1. Pun intended. ↩︎