In a nutshell: This WWDC appeared to be more of a preparation for something bigger. They cleaned up and enhanced the software (OS versions). Of course, faster MacBooks are great, but that’s not typically what you mean by innovation from Apple.
Many had expected that Apple would now jump on the VR bandwagon, but no VR/XR hardware was presented this time. Does this mean the Metaverse is off the table for Apple?
Anyone who has been observing the IT industry for a while will notice that despite all the development of new technologies such as VR headsets or gesture recognition via cameras, our user interfaces are still based on the classic desktop-mouse concept with horizontal or vertical menus (even on mobile).
Apple was the first company to successfully establish user guidance with the mouse (stolen from Xerox...), replacing cryptic keyboard combinations with simple clicks. The same happened over and over again, with the iMac, Touch the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. First and foremost, Apple stands for making technology intuitively accessible to all.
In the battle for on-person sensors, Apple beat the weird concept of “Google Glasses” with the Apple Watch. Google Glasses will be remembered by the memes “Glassholes”, while Apple’s sensor continues to sell better than any other sensor. They simply had it elegantly packaged in a familiar watch form. It’s not really a watch after all (that’s still misunderstood today, I had described that in 2015).
Apple creates ecosystems. And successfully manages, maintains and expands them. This has been shown with the launch of the iPhone. First, a mobile operating system was established, and then apps and music were sold in a curated marketplace.
I think Apple is once again preparing for the next big leap. They have just announced several things:
Apple has revamped its operating systems. In iOS 16, several layers were demonstrated using the example of people and the displayed time on the lock screen. This hints at the direction of a new user interface for VR/mixed reality. In general, the topic of multiple layers was shown several times.
Equally, speech (SIRI) and touch input can work simultaneously. Speech recognition is powerful, but still doesn’t quite catch everything. And not quite is just not good enough. A combination of acoustic and visual input methods can eliminate this weakness. And for VR, seamless combinations of input methods seem logical to me. Meta, for instance, doesn’t have that.
Avatars and 3D. Apple introduced personalized avatars in 2017 with their animated emojis. This was followed in 2020 by the introduction (unnoticed by many) of Lidar (distance measurement via a built-in laser), which allows iPhones to detect depth accurately and even in full darkness. The new announcements of 3D Apple Maps and Roomplan, which allow rooms to be captured in three dimensions, are going even further. When you connect the dots, the result is the perfect mix for VR/mixed reality. Interestingly, Android devices used to have lidar/radar before Apple, e.g., the Google Pixel 4 in October 2019 (radar), Samsung S10 5G in January 2020 (lidar), while Apple only launched this technology in October 2020. However, Google and Samsung have already discarded these technologies for cost reasons. Only Apple has consistently continued to maintain and expand on this. Avatars and 3D? Apple impressively shows how this can be useful. They seem to have a clear masterplan of how this all can come together.
If we assume that a VR/mixed reality experience is based on multiple sensors, harmonizing and connecting these devices is a prerequisite. That is something Apple understands better than any other company. That could also explain their decision to axe less capable sensors (Apple Watch 3, iPhone 7) already today.
With Apple Pay Later, the possibility was created to facilitate larger purchases and only pay later. This makes a lot of sense for expensive new devices or services that are not immediately useful (if you buy a Meta Quest 2 today, you often get the impression that it is cool, but a real killer app is still missing).
In short, Apple is ready for the Metaverse. However, Apple is smartly waiting until users get accustomed to the technologies and until successful solutions emerge. The race for the next version of the Internet has begun. Apple does not seem to be in the running, but they are likely already in the lead.