Apple vs Facebook: The immersive tech showdown

Society is on the cusp of a major technological revolution. Immersive technology – which blurs the line between the physical and digital worlds – is quickly becoming the most disruptive development in the industry.

The likes of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are continuing to increase in prominence, with what was once restricted to the realms of science-fiction now becoming commonplace.

According to IDC, global AR and VR revenues will increase from $5.2 billion in 2016 to $162 billion in 2020, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 181% over the five-year period.

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This rapid rise is being driven by a number of factors, including the ubiquitous nature of powerful smartphones and the introduction of inexpensive alternatives to appeal to a wider range of consumers. And, although gaming is still leading the charge, new applications are being found in wider industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and logistics.

Finally, tech goliaths such as Apple and Facebook are embracing immersive technology and taking it to the masses, helping to increase awareness and drive adoption. But, as competition in the industry continues to increase, who will rise to the challenge over the coming years and truly make the technology their own?

The battle for dominance

Following the emergence of a growing number of dedicated immersive technology vendors, some of the world’s biggest technology powerhouses have invested heavily in AR and VR. Apple and Facebook are two such examples, both of whom have made serious moves to make their respective presences known over the last couple of years.

Although somewhat late to the party, Apple has been making noise around the commercial and leisurely benefits of utilising AR technology, with CEO Tim Cook taking the view that AR’s inclusive nature gives it the edge over VR. And he’s certainly not wasting any time in attempting to position Apple as a leading AR player.

In November it was reported that the company is planning to start selling an augmented reality headset by as soon as 2020 and the Silicon Valley-based firm has recently ramped up its efforts in this area with the $30 million acquisition of Canadian AR headset manufacturer Vrvana.

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But that’s not all. Apple recently released a new developer framework within iOS called ARkit – enabling content creators to develop AR applications for iPads and iPhones – and has recently filed a 3D mapping patent that could point to the possibility of AR technology being built in to its future consumer devices.

Whether these developments will drive AR into the mainstream remains to be seen, but Apple’s interest in the area – along with its substantial resources – clearly won’t be disappearing any time soon.

So, with Apple firmly siding with AR, Facebook has taken a different approach to immersive tech and emerged as a prominent backer of interactive VR experiences. The social network is continuing to push VR to the mainstream, with founder and CEO Mark Zuckerburg hoping to have one billion people embracing it one day.

“Some people say that VR is isolating and anti-social. I actually think it’s the opposite,” he said at a recent press conference. “We all have limits to our reality. Opening up more of those experiences to more of us – that’s not isolating, that’s freeing.”

Facebook’s most high-profile move in the world of VR to date has of course been the multi-billion dollar acquisition of virtual reality pioneer Oculus in 2014, which really signalled its intent to dominate the market.

>See also: Collaborate to capitalise on immersive innovation

Since then, the social network has launched several VR products and experiences. These include its first wireless, standalone headset in the form of Oculus Go, a social platform called Facebook Spaces which enables people to interact and communicate with other users in a VR world and the introduction of several VR experiences to the website’s News Feed.

It’s clear that both companies see the value in championing immersive technology and are not afraid of publicly pushing their impressive ambitions for dominance.

Upping the stakes

With Apple and Facebook both ramping up their activities in the respective worlds of virtual and augmented reality, the race to lead the future of immersive technology is well and truly on.

And, although the applications of AR and VR have so far largely revolved around the consumer market, in the future the two companies will likely be fighting on two fronts. Immersive tech also has the potential to transform business operations and many enterprises are already starting to take a keen interest.

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But for now, the focus is on promoting the merits of the technology to the mass market and giving as many people as possible access to immersive AR and VR experiences.

The true commercial potential of the industry may still be something of an unknown, but what’s indisputable is that the showdown between Apple and Facebook is only going to intensify over the coming years.

As already seen, both companies have made strong starts, but that coveted number one spot is still up for grabs.


Sourced by Prajay Kamat, CTO at Ads Reality

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...