Apple’s absence in the virtual reality (VR) market could be lethal. Mobile VR is going to sell expensive top-tier phones. And without a dog in the fight, Apple will cede mobile VR to Google’s Android.
Recent activity leads me to believe, however, that an Apple/Oculus partnership could be announced at Apple’s Sept. 7 media event. Here are 10 reasons why I think it could really happen:
1. UploadVR reported that Apple filed a patent on a head-mounted display (HMD)
Apple filed a patent on an HMD and hand trackers similar to what are being sold today. It’s likely a defensive patent to prevent a damages award in patent litigation with the innovators such as Oculus, HTC and their predecessors. Apple’s claim in its patent reads: “A head-mounted device that is worn on a user's head and configured to integrate with a cellular telephone…”
2. Apple needs to prove to Wall Street and Main Street that it hasn’t lost its innovation mojo
Apple is generally perceived to have lost its innovative mojo. When 71 percent of the investors Bloomberg spoke to said Apple’s most innovative days had past, the premier business news agency questioned: Is Apple Losing Its Innovative Edge? Every company in the technology industry has a VR innovation story except for Apple. Apple needs to change opinions that its innovation engine has stalled. A cohesive VR story would help.
3. Google’s Android-based DayDream VR platform will be released very soon
Google will release its DayDream VR platform in October. The DayDream beta release that runs on Android 7.0, Nougat, is stable. Indie developers and partners are already building for and porting to it.
4. When Google releases DayDream in October, consumers can buy six DayDream-ready Android phones and HMDs
In October, Google will announce DayDream-ready smartphones and HMDs with six partners: Samsung, HTC, Huawei, LG, ZTE, Asus, Alcatel and Xiaomi.
+ Also on Network World: iPhone 7 preview: Everything Apple will announce next week +
5. When Google’s VR headsets are announced, many VR apps will be available
Unity3D for DayDream release 0.9 is nearly ready for release. Unity 3D, the lingua franca of VR and augmented reality (AR) app authoring, will bring a lot of VR and AR apps to Google DayDream Android VR devices. VR apps will create consumer demand for top-tier, gross-margin-rich, Android flagship phones, creating potentially lethal iPhone competition in Apple’s premium phone segment.
6. Archrival Samsung is already in VR first place with its Gear VR headset
Apple archrival, Samsung, announced its Gear VR headset almost a year ago. Flagship phones, the Galaxy 6 and Galaxy 7, both work with the Gear VR.
7. Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7 consumers will have both Oculus and DayDream apps to choose from
Versions of Oculus’ SDK and Unity have been ported to the Samsung Gear VR. After the Google DayDream-ready headset announcement next month, Samsung will have a robust VR portfolio spanning both Google and Samsung and flanking Apple. Unless Apple announces a VR offering next week, it will lose ground to competitor Samsung, the largest mobile phone maker in the world.
8. Apple’s iPhones are more powerful than consumers need to run most apps. Apple needs demanding VR apps to persuade consumers to buy more iPhone 7s.
Without CPU-intensive new apps like VR, Apple’s more powerful iPhone 7 and A10 processor due next week won’t run perceptively faster than last year’s iPhone 6s, impeding improved performance as a reason for Apple users to upgrade.
Most app developers proactively manage new versions of their apps, so they do not place an additional burden on phone hardware, eliminating sluggish performance as a reason to upgrade.
Apple’s iPhone business is in a slump. In the second quarter of this year, Apple reported iPhone sales declined for the first time—down 16.3 percent, year over year. In the following quarter, iPhone sales fell again. Fortune reported that iPhone shipments "fell off a cliff.”
Apple needs more than a new iPhone to revive sales; it needs a new category of hardware-hungry apps like VR to persuade users to upgrade their iPhones.
9. An Oculus-Apple partnership will bring VR apps to the Apple App Store right away
An Oculus-Apple partnership will bring apps and developers to an Apple VR platform. It would be very hard for Apple to introduce its own secretly developed VR platform that is robust enough to have an immediate impact without compatibility with the Oculus platform. Not impossible, but a big challenge, because all new apps will need to be created by developers unfamiliar with such an unproven Apple platform.
10. VR is happening now. Predictions peg VR will grow to 750 million headsets in the next five years
Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games and Carnegie Mellon adjunct professor, predicts that 40 million console-tethered and mobile VR heads will ship in 2017 and 750 million within five years. If Apple fails to be among them, it will miss the VR opportunity.