Apple – No Nirvana

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Vrvana unlikely to accelerate Apple’s AR.

  • Apple’s acquisition of Vrvana is the best sign yet that it is intending to get involved in hardware for augmented and virtual reality, but Vrvana is extremely unlikely to be able to accelerate its time to market.
  • Vrvana is a start-up based in Canada that launched a headset called the Totem which received good reviews but never shipped.
  • I suspect that the device never shipped because the company could get its headset to a high-enough level of quality and reliability to make it in the marketplace.
  • Its Kickstarter campaign was pulled as the company realised that its product would never meet the funding goals.
  • Furthermore, the Totem headset itself looks like a lot like a DIY project and is nothing that I would ever expect Apple to ship.
  • Hence, I suspect that Apple’s interest in Vrvana is more about the technology that Vrvana has used to create the Totem which includes:
    • First: the Vrvana Totem is capable of both AR and VR in the same unit.
    • It is able to do this by superimposing the real word onto the virtual which is the opposite of how almost everyone else does it.
    • Instead of having transparent lenses through which the real world can be viewed, it uses cameras to record the real world and superimpose them onto the virtual.
    • There is one camera for each eye such that depth perception of the real world can be maintained through standard stereopsis techniques.
    • Second: because the real-world images are being digitised before being mixed in with virtual images, the virtual images can be completely opaque.
    • In every other AR system I have seen, the virtual images are always somewhat translucent which reduces their ability to appear real as one can always see the real world behind them.
    • Consequently, using this set-up there is scope to mix the virtual and the real world more realistically.
  • This is what I think has interested Apple as the hardware itself is clunky, cumbersome and unattractive to look at.
  • The issue with implementing AR this way around, is that the user is still completely closing himself off from the real world and the head unit used is likely to be far more obstructive than a simple pair of glasses.
  • Consequently, I see this acquisition as highly speculative on Apple’s part with a high probability that this technique for AR ends up being discarded.
  • Given the difficulties being faced by everyone in the AR field (see here), I do not see Apple being ahead of the field nor do I think that this acquisition will accelerate its time to market.
  • The net result is that while Apple is right to explore the possibilities of AR, I suspect that there is no concrete intention to launch a unit.
  • I see this activity much like the vehicle or the television which were experiments that failed to stand up to the scrutiny of market reality.
  • Consumer AR is likely to remain a prisoner on the smartphone for the foreseeable future where no one looks capable of effecting a prison break any time soon.

5 thoughts on “Apple – No Nirvana

  1. Vrvana’s technology with Apple’s silicon expertise may be good enough for niche enterprise markets where effectiveness matters much more than looks. Now that Apple has a substantial and growing enterprise market and well established partners, it may be better and more profitable to provide AR/VR solutions there until the design is good enough for consumers.

    • Yes and no.
      On silicon certianly, I could see it putting Vevana tech into its silicon and making it much smaller.
      On Enterprise, I am not convinced. Apple is in the enterperise because senior managment are consumers and wanted to have their products with them in their work environment. It has not really done any speciliase hardware for the workplace with the excpetion of that super high end Mac workstation. Thats why I dont expect them to go down the AR for enterpirse route

      • This is go-to-market strategy. VR/AR glasses/contacts are not ready for mass market consumers and may not be for a few years. So it would make sense for Apple to make solutions for sectors, such as Health, where it is already putting in effort. Apple can also make the platform available to enterprise partners for other sectors. In this way Apple and users will gain experience at low volumes until the design is right for consumers.

        Apple wearables is the size of a Fortune 400 company and while I expect this to grow, VR/AR glasses/contacts is an obvious missing piece and Apple showed with the Watch that it is prepared to enter a market early.

  2. Apple has a history of shrinking technology and refining it, as recently as shrinking Kinect for the TrueDepth camera / Face ID function. Just because they acquire Vrvana doesn’t mean they’re going to release it as is. Their purpose would be to take it, refine it, repackage it into something useful.

    And,”I see this activity much like the vehicle or the television which were experiments that failed to stand up to the scrutiny of market reality.” except that more research keeps coming out of the automotive project, and while there have been a few departures, the majority of the engineers hired for it are still employed at Apple. I suspect that you’ve written it off prematurely. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1711.06396.pdf is Apple’s research paper on using point clouds to improve LIDAR detection in driving systems that just published. Whether anything comes of it to consumers is another matter, but they aren’t done with it yet. They have leaked the concept of self-driving shuttles running on their campus, they still have the fleet of Lexus vehicles equipped with LIDAR, and they still have the investment in Didi, which would make a good partnership for equipping cars with LIDAR in China as a wider test, outside the view of their home market consumer. They bought the test track so they could run tests in private. Apple values secrecy, and I imagine they’d like very much for people to believe they’ve abandoned automotive entirely while they keep working on it.

    • Yes agree… and I wrote as much on your first point. My research indicates that Apple has not abandoned the car completely but is now focusing only on autnomous driving. To me this is just plain odd as there is no way to bring this to market without hardware which is eactly the problem that Waymo has.

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