At the recent Augmented World Expo (AWE) event in November 2021 in Santa Clara, California, Ori Inbar, co-founder and CEO of AugmentedReality.org introduced the term “Shmetaverse” to his audience in his keynote. It was a metaverse pun suggesting that the term is so overused and misunderstood that it has lost any real meaning.
Augmented World Expo took place a few weeks after Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta/Facebook, presented his virtual reality-centric concept of the Metaverse. AWE is more focused on AR than VR. Yet the term, Metaverse was thrown around generously by vendors and speakers at the show, with just about everyone having their meaning of what and how the Metaverse impacted their products or presentations.
While Zuckerberg, Meta, and others continue to tout the vision of Metaverse and its VR-focused implementation, you may have noticed that Apple executives have deliberately refrained from expressing their views. on any vision focused on virtual reality. They pretty much even avoid using the term Metaverse in any commentary on how Apple thinks about virtual worlds.
Indeed, since 2017, when Apple showed off the AR Kit at its WWDC developer conference in June, Apple and its software partners have focused on augmented reality, not virtual reality. I was lucky enough to have a one-on-one with Apple CEO Tim Cook a few hours after his speech and we discussed his AR vision. As expected, he was excited about this direction for Apple and told me he believes “this will be one of Apple’s greatest contributions going forward.” That’s quite a statement given how much the iPhone has changed the world over the past 15 years.
In a specific way, Apple will be quite effective in an area where they have excelled since the introduction of the Mac in 2001. That is in the area of advancing human-machine interfaces. With the Mac, they introduced the graphical user interface and mouse that dominate the user interfaces of PCs, laptops, and tablets today. With CD-ROMs they added multimedia user interfaces and new graphical user interfaces, and with the iPhone they introduced touch user interfaces. With Siri, they popularized voice user interfaces.
Given their prowess in UI design, Apple will most likely bring gestures and visual UIs to mainstream users, as well as human-computer interfaces once they enter this market with their AR glasses. /XR in the future.
Meta’s vision for the Metaverse is more 3D and immersive using VR glasses such as their Oculus 2 headsets. Apple’s approach, at least as we’ve seen so far, leans more towards augmented reality-based experiences where data is superimposed on the lenses of certain types of glasses that allow the user to see the real world and virtual data and images simultaneously.
Apple recently added the term mixed reality when talking about their AR program and hopefully we’ll get more definitions on their additional insights into how AR and XR play out in their development programs at their WWDC in June 2022.
Apple is still pretty quiet about its actual plans for any kind of AR/XR headsets and their final approach to delivering their version of a virtual world experience to Apple customers. But from their current approach which focuses more on augmented reality than virtual reality, for Apple, Zuckerberg’s Metaverse vision is more Shmetaverse for them at the moment.