In the battle of Virtual Reality, there are now two major players: Sony and Facebook. In the last week the landscape for VR has had a major shift, moving from a potential to a reality.
Last week Sony announced and showcased their upcoming PS4 attached “Project Morpheus” VR system. While they are not committing to any release date or even a price point, there is no doubt in anyones mind that Sony is both serious and going to move quickly into the space.
Two years ago, Oculus made headlines when they launched their KickStarter. The Oculus Rift was real, cool, and backed by KickStarter and video game enthusiasts alike. Last week, Facebook announced that they had paid $2 Billion to buy the company outright.
This begs the question: is VR the next big thing in technology? If it is, are Sony and Facebook already the clear leaders, or are they just the first two to publicly announce? And more importantly for this article, where is Apple in VR?
Tim Cook, Apple, Inc. CEO, stated that Apple is very interested in pursuing wearable computing devices. Many thought that was a thinly disguised reference to an upcoming iWatch product. There have been internet rumors for years surrounding such a product, and while nothing concrete has been known about such a product, many believe it is only a matter of time. Personally I’m not convinced that Apple has any interest in creating a watch. It seems too niche for an Apple product, especially when you take into account that wearing a watch has steadily declined in popularity for the past decade.
Perhaps VR is what Tim Cook was referring to. You wear a VR helmet, so it does qualify. But is VR something Apple would be interested in developing?
Apple has been on the cutting edge of the “next big thing” since the 2001 release of the iPod. While there had been many portable MP3 players on the market before it, the iPod changed everything, capturing over 90% of the market within two years. It was the most commercially successful product Apple had ever sold up until that point in time. In 2007, Apple released the iPhone, and the iPad in 2010. No sane person could argue that both products haven’t changed the technology landscape in almost every way.
With VR, could Apple do it again? While Sony and Facebook have publicly shown their products months, if not years, before they become commercially available, Apple is known to hold new products close to the vest, not showing anything until a very firm ship date is both known and close. If Apple is interested in VR, chances are good that they have been working on it for the past few years.
What would an Apple VR look like? One would have to assume that it would be more sleek and sexy than anything Sony or Oculus/Facebook have shown. It would have already gone through thousands of hours of industrial design work by Johnny Ives and his crew. From video to audio, Apple knows how to make thing both striking and small. And small is the biggest challenge for Sony and Facebook as their VR headsets look clunky and too large.
Apple also has an ace up their sleeve that neither Sony or Facebook can match: the OS. While Sony’s VR system is simply an extension of the PS4, an OS that Sony owns and develops, it is that very extension that will prove to be the biggest hinderance for wide scale adoption and third party support. Apple, by contrast, knows the importance of third party support, has the most robust and profitable portable App Store in the world, and sales at a level Sony has not done for more than two decades.
And no, Facebook has no OS.
Would Apple want a piece of the VR world? I think so. I can see Apple making porting Mac OS and iOS apps over to the new system fairly easily, giving developers the option to support a new hardware platform quickly. For Apple, that means a much larger and robust App Store than either Sony or Facebook could hope to match, even over the next five years.
Apple has been at the forefront of new technologies for the past fifteen years. Will they continue to dominate? Or is this the beginning of a new computing paradigm, with Sony and Facebook leading the way?