From cars to TVs, if straight-batting questions about future products was an Olympic sport, Tim Cook would be festooned with more medals than Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps combined.
So when Apple’s CEO does talk about new technologies, his precision-targeted comments are always worth parsing. Such as these from an interview in March 2017.
“I’m excited about augmented reality because unlike virtual reality which closes the world out, AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently,” Cook told the Independent.
“I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives.”
By early June, Cook was telling Bloomberg that “I think it is profound. I am so excited about it, I just want to yell out and scream”. By this point, Apple had unveiled its ARKit framework, which will be part of its iOS 11 software update later this year.
Mobile AR technology – where digital information and content is overlaid onto the real world via a device with a screen – was around long before Pokémon Go blew up on smartphones in 2016.
Music Ally was writing about mobile AR browsers like Layar and Junaio as long ago as 2009, as well as the later crop of startups including Blippar and Zappar.
But the popularity of Pikachu and chums – not to mention the Snapchat-originated boom in digital face-foolery and dancing characters – has fuelled a sense that 2017 and 2018 will mark AR’s long-overdue debut as a truly-mainstream technology.
ARKit can be seen as Apple nailing its colours to that mast. While it hasn’t ruled out doing more with virtual reality in the future, Cook has made it clear that his company’s near-term priorities focus on encouraging app developers to do more with AR for iOS devices.
Already this summer, we’ve seen some interesting demos, from fairytales told by characters capering on children’s beds to airship battles on tabletops. Ikea and Lego were among the partners showcased at Apple’s WWDC event in June, too.
And music? Music should be part of this too. One developer has already made an ARKit app based on A-Ha’s iconic ‘Take On Me’ video, bringing its hand-drawn sketches into your real-world environment. It took a couple of days to put together.
That’s encouraging for labels who may be worried about chucking large budgets at AR before an obvious return on that investment is visible. At the same time, this spring’s Gorillaz app showed there’s already an appetite for the closely-related field of “mixed reality” in some quarters.
The prospect of AR built in to iOS devices will bolster the mainstream appeal, at least. AR headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap, neither of which are available for consumers yet, risk looking like expensive niches by comparison.
We’re looking forward to ARKit sparking some playful experimentation around AR and music. Snapchat’s dancing hot-dog character has been watched more than 1.5bn times already. What can musicians come up with that’s similarly engaging?
One final point: Apple isn’t alone in these AR ambitions. Google has just announced its own ARCore SDK, which will be baked in to Android smartphones, with the stated ambition of quickly ramping up to 100m devices.
ARKit and ARCore have the makings of important springboards for a new wave of AR creativity from developers – hopefully some of which will be put to work for artists.