There are several subtle but very compelling hints that Apple may be planning to get into the VR space, and may have already assembled a secret team that is working on Apple-branded VR. Apple are famously tight-lipped about future projects, but during a recent earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about VR specifically. He replied,
“I don’t think it’s a niche. It’s really cool and has some interesting applications.”
This is, of course, a long way from an admission that Apple are working on anything VR-related. However, it does hint that Cook at least sees the potential VR offers. There are several other big hints that Apple is eyeing VR seriously. There have been patent filings, VR-related job postings, various hardware and software acquisitions, and Apple engineers have also been spotted hanging out at the Stanford VR lab. While the exact nature of what they are working on isn’t clear, all available evidence so far seems to suggest that Apple are at least investigating VR’s viability as a future computing platform.
Ready for the Primetime?
If that’s the case, it’s still conceivable that Apple could ultimately conclude that VR still isn’t ready for the primetime and shelve any VR-related plans. However, anyone who has spent more than five minutes with a modern HMD will tell you that it works, it’s massively compelling, and is going to make some companies a lot of money.
Apple clearly have ample resources to make it happen, should they choose to do so. However, modern VR only works thanks in part to the sheer power of modern PCs capable of driving high-resolution images at very fast frame rates. While a high-end Mac can’t quite live up to a PC built to Oculus’ recommended specs, the Playstation 4 doesn’t either, yet seems to get by just fine.
Apple could instead choose to go down the mobile route, as Samsung has with its Oculus-designed GearVR range. The GearVR is powered by various phones in the Galaxy and Note range, and utilises OLED screens along with many custom optimisations to deliver low-latency VR far beyond anything that Google Cardboard can muster. It would likely take a more VR-orientated iPhone design to make it work, but such changes are clearly well within their ability.
Whatever Apple’s plans are for VR, having someone of Apple’s reputation in the game could help validate VR as a viable computing platform. Not in the eyes of hardcore VR enthusiasts, perhaps, but for VR to become truly mass-market it will have to appeal to the kind of tech-savvy person who already owns other examples of aspirational technologies. VR must itself become aspirational if it is to become anything more than a niche.
What do you think of Apple’s presence in this space and what it would do to the fledgling VR industry? Would it be a force for good or evil, or somewhere inbetween? Have your say in the comments section below.