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Apple

Apple’s augmented reality push could see iPhone reimagine Google Glass

Augmented reality means smartphone screens could become a tool for making users more aware of the wider world rather than distracting them from it

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 7:46am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 5:39pm

Augmented reality (AR) is one of Apple’s big new areas of focus, which it highlighted earlier this month at its Worldwide Developers Conference. But how will Apple use AR, which involves using a screen to overlay digital objects onto the real world?

UBS Securities analyst Steven Milunovich raises some interesting possibilities in a new report.

Apple has already shown what AR can do, when it demonstrated how to use an iPhone to overlay an interactive game board on a real table, for example.

But Milunovich suggested 10 additional applications for Apple’s AR play, including some we’ve already seen come to life, such as games and retail.

He also sees applications for job training, facial recognition, medical diagnoses, and the ability to direct people to safety in case of emergency situations, similar to what Google Glass did to help firefighters find the fastest exits from a building.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Milunovich wrote that combining various applications could also be useful. “Emergency first aid, a combination of remote health care and instantaneous education could save lives,” he said. “There are legal issues that would need to be overcome but seem solvable.”

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Further down the road, Milunovich said there could be room for iGlass - that is, Apple’s take on a Google Glass-type headset. Could Apple succeed where Google failed? Advances in headset technology, plus some classic Apple design chops, could make the devices more appealing to the non-geek, Milunovich indicated.

The market for AR glasses is expected to grow over the next several years. The International Data Corporation recently predicted that the market for AR and virtual reality (VR) will grow from 10 million headsets in 2016 to 100 million in 2021. AR will be slightly behind VR, the firm said, but analysts added that most consumers will probably get introduced to the concept through their smartphones.

The tools for AR that Apple introduced earlier this month open up a range of possibilities to developers and highlight the tech giant’s interest in the area, which Apple chief executive Tim Cook once said was “a big idea like the smartphone”.

Apple will need to impress with its 10th anniversary iPhone, Milunovich said, and in a best-case scenario, a truly innovative iPhone would help the company reclaim its mantle for innovation.

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But it could face some fierce competition. OnePlus has just announced its much hyped OnePlus 5, which sports premium power and Android simplicity at US$479. If rumours are true, that’s about half the price of the next iPhone. It’s also far cheaper than the iPhone 7 Plus, which sports the same size 5.5-inch screen and starts at US$769.

Playing up the AR features for the iPhone, while using Apple’s innovative design techniques, could be one way to further push Apple to the front of the pack, Miunovich said. The smartphone screen could become a tool for making users more aware of the wider world rather than distracting them from it.

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“[We] can picture the phone looking like a clear piece of glass when looking through the camera,” he said. “Rather than staring down at a screen while we walk across the street or stand in line, we would be far more engaged with the world around us.”