During Apple's Q3 2016 earnings call, CEO Tim Cook told investors that the company is researching and putting money into augmented reality, or AR. That technology has quickly become a buzzword following the success of Niantic Labs' Pokémon Go, which puts Nintendo's favorite creatures in the real world. The game quickly skyrocketed to the top of the App Store (though that was probably because of the Pokémon brand, not AR).
"It also does show, as you point out, that AR can be really great," Cook said. "We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We are high on AR for the long run. We think there's great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity."
This isn't a huge surprise, as Apple has acquired several AR or AR-related companies in the last few years, including Metaio, which made an app for seeing how furniture would look in a user's home; Faceshift, which makes technology for real-time motion capture; PrimeSense, which made the motion-camera tech inside Kinect for Xbox; and FlyBy Media, which could recognize scanned objects.
Apple's iPhone is the go-to tastemaker for a number of features, which are often considered mainstream once they come to Apple's phones. Apple won't invent AR, but it may come up with the version of it that becomes the norm.
Apple can do this easily: by providing developers with the tools. I wouldn't be surprised to see senior vice president of software engineering Craig "Hair Force One" Federighi announce AR Kit (or, perhaps, arKit) for developers to put together iOS apps with AR components or alter current apps to add them.
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The company could also create a headset. It filed a patent back in February 2015 for a headset that works with a phone, which could be a really easy way to ape Microsoft's Hololens. Perhaps Siri AR would put a user's calendar, inbox, Safari browser, texts, news and an Apple Music player on the walls or in a user's peripheral vision.
I also wouldn't be surprised to see AR come to iMessage. In iOS 10, Apple added new features to Messages like bigger emoji, handwriting and some special effects. Maybe iOS 11 will use AR for Snapchat filter-like selfies using technology from Faceshift.
For now, though, we can only speculate. Apple tends to take its time with new technology, but now we know that AR is on the way.