Potential Game Changer

The past couple of years have been smooth sailing for Apple. The company has encountered a few minor bumps, but sales and earnings were on the rise by the end of 2016. Some critics say, however, that the Cupertino-based tech giant's been sailing too smoothly, forgoing its traditional penchant for disruption and innovation. Those critics may have been heard as Apple is turning its attention toward a tech with a high potential for disruption: augmented reality (AR).

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Apple CEO Tim Cook has been quite vocal and rather bullish about AR, virtual reality's (VR) cousin technology. On more than one occasion, he has expressed his excitement over AR and what it could do for consumers. In July 2016, Cook told journalists during a press call that Apple is "high on AR in the long run." He added, "We have been and continue to invest a lot in this ... we think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity."

During an event in October, Cook reiterated what he sees as the future role of AR. "It is likely that AR [...] is the one that the largest number of people will engage with," he said, comparing it to VR. Most people will "have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you," according to Cook. He has said he expects AR to be a game changer on par with the smartphone.

Apple's Foray Into AR

Toward the end of 2016, reports circulated about a new Apple product that would put AR directly into the hands of consumers. According to insiders, Apple has plans to develop AR glasses that connect wirelessly to iPhones. Reportedly, the glasses would be ready to hit the market in 2018.

Now, more details have surfaced. Bloomberg reports that anonymous sources from inside Apple told them the company has put together a team of hardware and software experts to bring AR to the masses. The group comprises people with AR and VR backgrounds, including engineers from Oculus and HoloLens, and digital-effects experts from Hollywood.

Heading up this team is Mike Rockwell, a former executive from Dolby Laboratories. "He's a really sharp guy," Oculus co-founder Jack McCauley told Bloomberg. "He could certainly put a team together that could get an Apple AR project going." In addition to bringing on Rockwell, Apple also acquired several companies in 2016 that could help develop its AR tech.

AR is an industry on the rise, with a potential $90 million global market by 2020 that could surge up to $165 million by 2024. If Apple wants a major slice of that pie, they'll need to move fast. To that end, some think that Apple will introduce AR-capable cameras into the next iPhone while continuing to perfect its AR glasses. As Apple analyst Gene Munster told Bloomberg, "It's something they need to do to continue to grow and defend against the shift in how people use hardware."

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