WWDC 2017: Apple takes on AR, VR & smart speakers: what’s next?

June 12, 2017

Apple WWDC 2017

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) for 2017 kicked off with a bang earlier last week, with some kind of expected announcements along with some not so expected. Falling into the expected category was the announcement of Apple’s official venture into VR and AR, while their swanky looking smart speaker came as a bit of a surprise. Overall, the highly respected and regularly scrutinized company is finally following in the footsteps of their closest rivals, Google and Amazon. The question is – how might these announcements affect the future of VR, AR, and voice assistant technologies?

Apple, Meet VR

Although many were chomping at the bit to see whether an official Apple VR HMD would be announced, instead we were blessed with the knowledge that a brand new VR-compatible iMac, iMac Pro, and external VR ready graphics component for the Macbook will be hitting the shelves later this year – all ready to go with the HTC Vive and hopefully also the Oculus Rift in the near future. Apple also announced that Steam VR would be making its way onto Mac OS systems, as well as a number of software upgrades.

VR: Our guess for what’s next
Although companies like Google and Oculus have paved the way for modern VR, it’s still seen as a niche product as well as a little too gimmicky for the general public. Apple, an influencer powerhouse, announcing its progression into the field is a big deal. Our prediction is that a wider audience (in particular die-hard Apple fans) will follow suit in Apple’s growing interest in VR, which in turn will spur developers to churn out more software and hardware and progress the tech at a much faster rate than it has been up to now. We also see many more making use of mobile VR if (or when) the company implements Google Daydream-esque sensors into upcoming iPhone devices, further encouraging Apple to push the boundaries of mobile VR.

A major focus on AR

If VR was the golden prince of this year’s WWDC, AR was its diamond queen: it’s obvious how much Apple consider AR to be a major growing technology, with the announcement of their ARKit technology and tie-ups with dozens of major brands. ARKit, which will be implemented into all iOS devices running the upcoming iOS 11, has a whole lot of promise with motion-tracking, dynamic lighting, scale estimation, and more under the hood. Apple went on to state that they’re working with brands like Lego and IKEA, as well as an iOS-exclusive enhanced version of AR darling Pokémon GO.

AR: Our guess for what’s next
Without a doubt AR has been the most accessible growing technology in recent years thanks to apps like Snapchat and Pokémon GO. Although Google have developed their own enhanced AR software in the form of Google Tango, the downside is that as of now the technology is only limited to certain devices. ARKit on the other hand will be available for all iPhones from the 5S as well as iPads from the iPad mini 2, essentially making it the “largest AR platform in the world” in the hands of hundreds of millions of users. Following this, and similar to the case of VR, we predict that a flood of developers and apps making use of the ARKit technology will inundate the AR space and augmented reality will become an even bigger part of our everyday lives.

Siri’s ready to go head-to-head against Alexa and Google Assistant

Although Apple announced their HomeKit software in 2014, they’ve finally made another step into the smart device space with the announcement of the HomePod, a smart speaker powered by the company’s well-known Siri AI technology. With rivals being the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the company has big expectations to live up to, which they’re first taking on in the form of the speaker’s sound quality. The speaker boasts 7-beam forming tweeters and a 4-inch woofer, along with an A8 chip that holds the real magic: real-time acoustic modeling, audio beam forming, and echo cancellation technologies.

Smart assistant: Our guess for what’s next
The smart speaker field is undoubtedly being led by Amazon with their Amazon Alexa software, followed closely by the Google Home. So what can Apple bring to the table? Apart from the top-notch specs, Siri’s capabilities pale in comparison to Alexa and Google Assistant. We predict that the speaker will gain initial popularity in Apple fan circles, but everyday consumers will continue to lean towards Google and Amazon – not only because of the wide variety of Skills and integration with other apps, but also as the HomePod will be initially priced as $349 in comparison to the Amazon Echo which retails as $50 for the Dot and $180 for the full system. Being it’s an Apple product, the pricing will most probably stay around the $350 mark and will put off a lot of casual consumers.

In all, it’s wise that the tech conglomerate is finally striding towards these three technologies that (along with mixed reality) have arguably the biggest potential for growth leading up to 2020. Now that Apple has laid down their foundation for the future of AR and VR, it’s up to developers to help steer them in a direction that will truly rival that of their closest competitors.

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