Technology news

Apple is starting to connect the dots for its next big thing

Nearly 15 years after the iPhone sparked the smartphone revolution, Apple is putting together the pieces of what it hopes will be its next business-changing device: a headset that blends the digital world with the real world.

The company has tapped Hollywood directors such as Jon Favreau to develop video content for a headset it is expected to ship next year, according to three people familiar with the work. Favreau, executive producer of “Prehistoric Planet” on Apple TV+, strives to bring the show’s dinosaurs to life on the headset, which resembles a pair of ski goggles and aims to deliver virtual and augmented reality experiences, have said these people. .

Separately, at its annual developer conference on Monday, Apple plans to unveil software tools that would allow apps to add new camera and voice features, laying the groundwork for a hands-free interface where customers will eventually be able to navigate the headset, according to two people familiar with the project and documents reviewed by The New York Times.

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An Apple spokeswoman, Trudy Muller, declined to comment on future plans. A Favreau spokesperson could not comment.

The planned headset will propel Apple into an emerging competition to define the future of mixed reality. Microsoft, Google, and Facebook’s parent company Meta are in various stages of developing software and hardware to create environments where 3D digital images and the physical world coexist.

Last year, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg dropped Facebook as his company name and pledged to build a concept known as the Metaverse, where the online, virtual and real worlds merge into a new universe. He and others believe it could become the next wave of computing, succeeding the era of smartphones dominated by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android software, just as those platforms followed the decades of Windows and from Macintosh.

“It’s the next frontier,” said Carolina Milanesi, technology analyst at Creative Strategies, a technology research firm. “For Apple, this is a new computing experience and an opportunity to engage consumers with a device and new experiences that build on what they’ve done with content.”

Mixed reality work is expected to be overshadowed during Apple’s conference keynote on Monday, which will be largely devoted to the company’s existing software systems. Apple could also announce a redesigned MacBook Air with thinner bezels around its screen than current models and updated processors, analysts said.

Apple’s development of VR content and software tools is key to creating experiences that give its future headset a purpose. Its last major new product, the Apple Watch, launched with around 3,000 apps but struggled to take off as tech reviewers said few of those apps were useful. Similar shortcomings plagued the Meta’s Quest virtual reality headset, which topped 10 million in sales last year, as many consider it a gaming device.

From its original Macintosh to its iPad, Apple has sought out products that appeal to a wide range of potential customers and have a range of uses. It sold about 240 million iPhones last year, accounting for about half of its $366 billion in total sales. For the headset to be worth it, analysts say, it will need to have utilities that transcend the niche world of video games.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been talking about the potential of augmented reality for years. In 2016, he told investors the company was investing heavily in it and saw it as a “great business opportunity”. At that time, many employees on Apple’s campus were reading “Ready Player One,” a futuristic virtual reality novel, and talking about the possibilities of creating Apple’s own mixed reality world.

Apple hired an engineer from Dolby Technologies, Mike Rockwell, to lead the effort. Its early efforts to create an augmented reality product were hampered by low computing power, two people familiar with the project said. Ongoing challenges with its battery power forced Apple to delay its release until next year, these people said.

The augmented reality initiative has caused discord within Apple. At least two members of its industrial design team said they left the company, in part because they had concerns about developing a product that could change the way people interact with each other. Such sensitivities have risen within the company amid growing public concern about children’s screen time.

With Rockwell at the helm, the product would be one of the first to come out of Apple led by its engineering team rather than co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, and former design chief Jony Ive, who left the company in 2019. The Apple Watch project was led by Ive and its designers, who defined how it looked, how it worked, and how it was marketed.

Favreau’s lineup shows how Apple tries to differentiate its product from Meta’s. It also illustrates how the company is leveraging the relationships it’s cultivated in Hollywood since launching Apple TV+ in 2019.

“Amazing headphones might give you a better experience than an 80-inch TV,” said Matt Miesnieks, CEO of LivingCities.xyz, a startup working on metaverse technology.

Apple’s software tools extend a multi-year campaign to encourage developers to create augmented reality apps. The company kicked off this effort in 2017 with ARKit, which allowed developers to use the iPhone’s camera and motion sensors to place digital objects in the real world and allow people to interact with them. .

However, about 70% of Apple developers said they don’t use this tool, according to a survey of more than 500 developers by Creative Strategies.

A toolkit Apple is expected to showcase at the conference gives software developers new capabilities to trigger shortcuts in their apps using Siri and QR codes, interactions that will be leveraged in future headsets, said said a person familiar with the project.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.