WWDC recap: Apple unveils iOS 11,iMac Pro, a new iPad Pro and HomePod
And then there were the two announcements that got the most attention — the announcement of Apple’s ARKit and the HomePod kit. The products seemed to attack markets heading in different directions, with AR being touted as a universally applicable next frontier that will gobble up virtual reality in its march forward. On the other hand, home audio seemed like a sleepy niche market to be heading into near mainstream irrelevance before it was woken up to the cry of “Alexa!” Indeed, Apple itself had tried its hand at a home audio speaker during the height of the iPod’s popularity with the unsuccessful iPod Hi-Fi. Like the HomePod, it was priced at $349.
ARKit and HomePod also seem like counterparts — the former a software-related announcement that screamed to call for hardware and the latter a hardware announcement that seemed to have no software component. But we can expect both of those scenarios to change in the coming years into initiatives that span Apple’s trademark combination of hardware and software.
Take HomePod. Like the iPod in its early days, its name seems to imply something beyond a fixed-function device. And indeed, the iPod became much more than just a music player, eventually taking on audiobooks, photos, videos, games and even sprouting a camera for a bit before the iPhone proved a vastly superior convergence device. The HomePod, unlike the imminent Alexa Show, doesn’t have a display for some of this media. Apple, unlike Amazon.com, has laptops and desktops for that purpose.
But it stands to reason that the company, which has proclaimed that the future of TV is apps, would make the same arguments for home audio. Indeed, its main competitors have opened up their smart speakers to third parties, and Apple would be at a competitive disadvantage if it did not. It’s no accident that the HomePod has the same processor as an iPhone.
Then there’s ARKit. Long before Pokemon Go invoked in the Apple keynote, companies such as Total Immersion and Qualcomm spinout Vuforia had smartphone-based augmented reality systems. While the flexibility and scale of the ARKit demos far exceeded those companies’ early work, it in some ways lacked the work being done on HoloLens and other systems in development such as those from Avegant.
Using an iPhone or iPad as an AR viewer removes the encumbrance and additional expense of a headset. As such, it makes AR experiences far more spontaneous. However, it is far less immersive experience than one can have using a headset. And holding up a device — particularly a large iPad Pro — for an extended period of time could turn into a better exercise tool than the Apple Watch.
Of course, what iPhone AR buys Apple is scale. Deploying it across hundreds of millions of iOS devices incentivizes iOS developers to embrace ARKit. One can be sure that, once Apple decides to create a device more optimized for AR, it will be a simple transition for those developers who have adopted ARKit.
HomePod is a device without a dedicated platform. ARKit is a platform without a dedicated device. But neither will stay that way for long.