Apple versus Google, Facebook, and Amazon in virtual reality … – Markets Insider

FILE PHOTO: A customer views the new iPhone 7 smartphone inside an Apple Inc. store in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File PhotoThomson

These are the quiet times.

From April to June, tech’s biggest companies all held their
annual mega-events, laying out their grand visions for the next
12 months or so. 

Facebook kicked it off in late April with its
F8 conference
, followed by
Microsoft Build
, then the
Google I/O conference
, and Apple’s
Worldwide Developers Conference
finished things off. Amazon
doesn’t really hold events, but it unveiled two new Amazon Echo
smart speakers during that period for good measure.

And things will get exciting again, sooner than you know it. This
Fall, Apple is expected to reveal a
10th-anniversary iPhone
, Google will likely reveal a
revamped Pixel smartphone
, and Microsoft is expected to hold
another one of its regular late-October Surface computer press

In the meantime, there’s not much to do but reflect on what we’ve
learned so far this year about the future of tech. And beyond the
hype and the hyperbole, we’re starting to see the very earliest
stages of a battle for the next phase of computing.

Because while Apple and Google may dominate the smartphone market
today, technologies like augmented reality present whole-new
platforms where there’s no clear winner. So Amazon, Microsoft,
and Facebook, having missed out on owning a mobile platform, are
doing their damndest to
hasten the end of the smartphone
— and the end of Apple and
Google’s duopoly, while they’re at it.

Skin in the game

Every major technological shift has created big opportunities for
the few entrepreneurs who see it coming early — in the
seventies, Apple and Microsoft made big bets that the PC would be
a much bigger market than gigantic room-sized mainframes, while
mainframe industry decried the PC itself as a fad
. We see who
won that one.

Similarly, Microsoft didn’t fully realize the potential of
smartphones, until well after Google and Apple proved them wrong.
Now, Google’s Android is the most popular operating system in the
world, full stop. And the iPhone has propelled Apple
to record profits and to the status
as the company to beat in tech.

Well, it seems like time is a flat circle. Right now, we’re
seeing the earliest growing pains of augmented reality and
virtual reality — tech that overlays the digital world onto
our human senses. It means information, projected into your
eyes and ears, as you need it. Why carry a phone when Netflix and
WhatsApp are floating in front of you?

apple arkit portal
Apple ARkit allows apps to overlay digital imagery into
the real world.

Made With

Some call it a fad, or just something that’s too new and
untested to be considered a real threat to the smartphone.
And yet, there’s a veritable arms race to build these augmented
reality platforms of the future.

Amazon’s Alexa is primarily thought of as a digital voice
assistant, but having a virtual “person” tell you the time and
weather definitely qualifies as augmented reality. Microsoft has
its reality-bending HoloLens “hologram” goggles.
and Snapchat have both built augmented reality
straight into the camera. Even Google-backed startup
Magic Leap thinks its yet-to-released goggles have a shot at
becoming a new platform

The net result is a race to build whatever is going to do
the smartphone what the PC did to the mainframe. What these
companies all have in common is that they missed the boat on
building smartphone operating systems of their own. Now, it’s on
them to build whatever comes next.

Defensive position

Apple and Google are well aware of the threat and are not
standing still.

Apple has ARkit, a system for building augmented reality into
iPhone apps, using the phone’s built-in camera. It’s
technologically robust enough and easy enough to use that
developers love it, giving Apple a nice foothold in
augmented reality. If and when
Apple releases smart glasses
, those apps will come right

Google has various augmented reality efforts in the works,
including Project Tango. And although the first version of the
Google Glass headset flopped, if Google figures out how to revamp
the device, it will have a vehicle to extend Android into the AR

Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft’s HoloLens goggles project three-dimensional
imagery into your field of view.


In a weird way, going on the defensive like this almost gives
Apple a perverse incentive to replace the iPhone: If
Apple can build the next great hardware platform itself
, it
means that Amazon can’t do it with Alexa, and Microsoft can’t do
it with HoloLens. 

In the meantime, as we appreciate all the new hardware and
software goodies coming out later this year, keep the perspective
that everything we’re seeing now is the first salvo in a
computing war that will rage for the next decade and beyond.


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