Where there is smoke, there's fire. On the heels of Apple CEO Tim Cook giving props to the notion that (in his view) Virtual Reality is not merely a niche, but a potential mainstream segment with "interesting applications," the Financial Times is reporting that Apple has assembled a large team of VR and Augmented Reality experts to kick start its efforts.
This begs the question. Just because Apple can pursue the nascent VR market, **should** it?
To me, VR is a "no brainer" market for Apple. I say this for five reasons:
- Immersive Experiences: Apple is all about delivering the kind of user experience that envelops the user. Consider the relationship that users have had with their iPods, the perpetual peering of consumers into their iPhones, the notion of the iPad as a high definition display right in front of your face, the dominance of gaming on iOS, the rise of Siri and the slow, steady reinvention of the living room with Apple TV. Against this backdrop, VR more than passes the sniff test of moving immersive-ness to a whole new plane.
- Vertical Integration: The magic of Apple is that they find and focus on experience domains that require compositing and orchestration of multiple layers of the hardware, software, service and content stack. Is there any doubt that VR, a domain that must concurrently pass the eye, ear and spatial test, requires this type of integration? Also, is there any doubt that Apple has the focus, skill set and fortitude to create the platform and SDK required to catalyze this wave?
- Marketplace and Monetization: App Store, iTunes, Apple Pay, Touch ID. Apple simply groks to their very essence how to create an ecosystem, provide a marketplace for that ecosystem to promulgate, and monetization paths for consumers to pay for those goods in both physical and virtual realms. the notion of experiences being marketed and monetize-able in the VR domain is fundamental, no?
- Identity: A by-product of the above is that Apple has built a credit card and Touch ID backed verification layer for identity. If you believe as I do that virtual reality is simultaneously about real estate, marketplace and community, having a mechanism for identity verification is integral, and Apple is incredibly well positioned.
- 'Insanely Great' Magic: Current VR is akin to the dog walking on its hind legs. Impressive that it can be done at all, but not yet purpose based or compelling. Will there be anything more magical (for basketball fans) than the moment you play basketball with NBA legends and it **feels** inseparable from truth? Who better to bring that to you than the company the prides itself in putting a 'dent' in the universe?
Two final thoughts. Relative to the above, Amazon and Google feel like the only other companies that have the combination of needed capabilities to tackle this market, and NEITHER feels like the ones to lead its transition from proof-of-concept to mainstream.
Two, history suggests that it's as lethal to be too early as it is to be wrong, and with VR, the **when** matters big time. But for Apple, VR should be a WHEN, not an IF.