Apple is putting tools in place to support always-on web experiences, possibly extending from AR apps via Safari to browser-based notifications. These may signal how the company sees the metaverse hype becoming relevant to reality.
Augmented reality as a platform
Two incoming features in iOS 15.4 (currently in beta testing) provide a glimpse of how Apple may think: Web XR and Web Push Notifications on iOS. Developer Maximiliano Firtman says neither feature works yet, but both are described in the current beta, which implies that at some point they will.
Combined with the rest of Apple’s AR-focused tools, APIs, and frameworks, you now have an increasingly powerful set of interlocking solutions with which to create and consume such experiences. All of them are already to some extent supported across more than a billion devices people use every day.
All you need is the tool with which to access them.
All you need is a platform.
Better may be better than best
Apple CEO Tim Cook often likes to use the expression “pulling the string” around how Apple works with new fields and industries. It’s an articulation of what happens when you pour billions of dollars into R&D but don’t necessarily have the burden of a deadline.
Given the chance to deeply investigate a topic, you may find a way to create simple-seeming solutions to complex problems. “Making the solution seem so completely inevitable and obvious, so uncontrived and natural — it’s so hard,” Apple’s legendary ex-designer Jony Ive once said. Simplicity is complicated.
Apple has always approached difficult problems in this way.
It understands that solving challenges isn’t as simple as finding the answer, it’s about making sure the answer is itself profoundly approachable.
I can still recall Michael Krantz’s important “Time” interview with Apple’s then iCEO, Steve Jobs (1999), when he said:
“Technology has exploded. It’s getting more complicated by the day. And there are very few ways for us mere mortals to approach all this technology. People don’t have a week to research things and figure out how they work. Apple has always been, and I hope it will always be, one of the premiere bridges between mortals and this very difficult technology.”
This remains why Apple pulls these strings across different manifestations of technology. To take incredibly complex technologies and ideas and turn them into comprehensible realities people can use and understand — and make products people seem to love and understand out of these ideas.
Apple won’t be the evil twin
In the case of the metaverse — which is a stupid expression — what could be more complex than building “digital twins” of our entire lived reality?
The company has been quietly working on this since at least as far back as 2017, when Cook said: “I think AR is big and profound and this is one of those huge things that we’ll look back at and marvel on the start of it.”
It’s no one-world vision, either. AR isn’t about virtual meetings with friends, Pokémon, or Facebook’s take on social control and surveillance capitalism.
It’s about augmenting real important tasks and processes, such as surgical operations, emergency response, industrial maintenance, education, visitor attractions, prototyping, and new product design. It’s about full-sense sports entertainment experiences — and about physiotherapy, wellness, and exercise. It’s about augmenting what’s around you with information you might not gather otherwise.
At its best, AR should be about building digital models for any imaginable real-world process so you can change parameters in that virtual world while figuring out how to improve outcomes in the real world. It’s about setting those automated virtual worlds to work for you, augmenting your capabilities.
These are “digital twins.”
Which world will you live in?
There will be multiple metaverses. But it will be Apple that works to create a digital reality that meets people where they are, not where it wants them to be. The 14,000 ARKit apps already at the App Store provide a glimpse of where we are going.
Meta meanwhile is touring conservative lawmakers and libertarian organizations to convince them its vision for the metaverse isn’t evil. On the other side of the political divide, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) seems unconvinced.
“Apple’s focus is on the here and now, with the company refusing to be caught up in the metaverse hype,” said GlobalData analyst Emilio Campa recently.
“Rivals such as Meta (formerly Facebook) are focused on building ‘Tomorrow’s metaverse,’ but this risks confusing consumers. Apple knows how people use technology today, and its silence on the metaverse should not be misconstrued as ignorance. Apple is well placed to profit from its established software and platforms, when the metaverse begins to cohere.”
When it comes to the metaverse, Apple is in position to wait until everyone else has had a go, then come in and offer its own innovative take.
Or, as Ive once also said:
“’Different’ and ‘new’ is relatively easy. Doing something that’s genuinely better is very hard.”
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