Apple Won’t Be First to Augmented Reality, but Can It Be the Best?

The odds are stacked in the Mac maker’s favor.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is very rarely a first mover, and CEO Tim Cook often points out that the company’s goal is never to be the first at something — it just wants to be the best. The iPod wasn’t the first music player, the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, and the iPad wasn’t the first tablet. There are more examples.

With Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) making a big official push into augmented reality (AR) yesterday, complementing its virtual reality (VR) efforts, will the same scenario play out once again for the Mac maker?

Hardware is hard

Cook has made no secret of how much potential he sees in AR, believing that the nascent technology could be truly transformative since unlike VR, AR doesn’t isolate you from the real world. In characteristic fashion, don’t expect Apple to unveil whatever it’s up to until the company feels like it’s ready for mainstream adoption. In contrast, Facebook is taking the more traditional Silicon Valley approach of incremental iteration.

The social network’s new Camera Effects Platform currently just focuses on photo and video filters as a form of expression. Apple’s new Clips app offers similar functionalities, which may very well be the foundations of its AR strategy, but Apple isn’t calling anything a “platform” quite yet like Facebook is. Apple is also expected to include some AR functionalities in upcoming iPhones, potentially as early as this year. Longer term, both companies appear to be working on AR glasses as the delivery mechanism for an AR platform.

The hardware will be a critically important aspect, and fashion preferences have a lot of bearing on wearable technology. Alphabet’s Google Glass was too early for its time, and the super futuristic aesthetic was alienating, which may have contributed to that device’s failure. Facebook is relatively new to the hardware game, but has been beefing up its hardware talent. The company poached Rich Heley last year from Tesla to join its Building 8 hardware team, where he currently serves as head of manufacturing; Heley was previously a hardware director at Apple.

Meanwhile, hardware is one of Apple’s greatest strengths, so expectations around Apple AR glasses will be (and should be) quite high. Apple also has much more experience constructing and operating computing platforms (as opposed to a social platform) on a massive scale. Additionally, Apple can leverage its broader product ecosystem to deliver more integrated AR experiences that leverage other Apple products a customer might have.

The odds are stacked in the Mac maker’s favor.

AR platforms may not be mutually exclusive

It’s worth pointing out that AR platforms may not be mutually exclusive. While the primary platform may very well be tied to what hardware a customer buys, it’s quite conceivable that in addition to making AR glasses, Facebook could build its platform on top of other platforms, too, much like its current social platform is primarily built on third-party mobile platforms like iOS and Android.

If Apple’s underlying AR platform proves to be more successful, with greater mainstream adoption, there wouldn’t be anything stopping Facebook from creating an AR app for Apple’s platform to deliver the AR experiences that Zuckerberg envisions. On the flip side, it’s unlikely that Apple would pursue such a strategy, as it always sticks to its own walled garden.

It’s still early days in AR, and the coming years will see major AR investments and competition from all the major tech giants. That’s good news for consumers.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.