Apple’s VR market opportunity is much bigger than Pokemon Go!

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 15.05.10

I read a very insightful analysis by Tim Bajarin on PC Mag in which he makes a selection of constructive arguments to justify his claim that Apple will not enter the VR market “soon”.

The analyst makes a series of assessments, principally:

  • Apple should introduce a standalone VR device, not iPhone VR accessory
  • Apple must create VR API’s
  • Apple needs more powerful processors and GPUs to make powerful solutions
  • It will take one or two years until A-series processors are sufficiently powerful

I’m not going to argue with any of this. Apple is certainly not going to want to introduce some underpowered, half-baked, over-priced disappointment of a technology just to support what its competitors see as cutting edge. The pre-Apple Pay mobile payments industry showed us it takes time and planning to execute effectively.

“We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We are high on AR for the long run, we think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity,” said Tim Cook recently.

Not for everyone

You see, I just don’t believe VR realises its greatest value as a consumer experience. Sure, you can play Pokemon Go, explore places, perhaps even visualize things like online shopping in virtual malls, but none of these things are truly essential. (Though things change and I may well be missing some of the consequences of these technologies).

However, VR has a lot to offer in numerous professional markets, such as medicine. Google Glass wasn’t good for much, but has attracted interest in the medical sector. It has been used to deliver patient records, collaboration in symptoms checking, even conference and advice sessions mid-operation.

Hands-free augmentations can make a life or death difference in medical emergency.

Apple has been watching this.

VR headsets will also have clear uses in military, law enforcement, public emergency situations. Beyond this you can imagine them being pretty useful in non-critical scenarios, such as in oil-&-gas exploration, systems and technical maintenance and support, anywhere in which useful contextual supporting data can be made available or shared in real time. None of these are consumer plays, but Apple is in position to support them.

Enterprise opportunity

Apple is already an enterprise company with a big focus on the $9 trillion/year health sector.

“When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small,” Apple CEO, Tim Cook, told Fastcompany.

Apple’s  good at thinking out where technologies fit in future and we all know it has plans for an Apple Car. VR may well have huge consequences there, of course, as evidenced by this interesting device.

So what am I saying?

I agree with Bajarin when he says “Apple is probably in the best position to bring VR to a mass market.”

What I don’t agree is that Apple should stick with mass market product design. Apple today is an enterprise company at the cusp of the digital transformation of everything. It has big interests in supporting sectors, from mobile intelligence to AI. Things have changed. It should be defined by its emerging future, not its storied past.

The big difference

When thinking about Apple’s next move we need to think beyond primary consumer markets, and more about how it can make a difference in any market it chooses to take part in. Apple could already make a huge difference to healthcare with VR solutions based on its existing technologies, from iMessage to iPhone, Apple Watch to medical sensor design. Think how Apple VR in combination with Watson AI could transform medical diagnosis in remote communities. (Like a VR doctor’s head mirror). That’s profound, enabling, and required. And Apple has the tools and partnerships to make it happen.

Jonny Evans

Watching Apple since 1999. I don't say what they should do. I say what they might do. They sometimes do.

3 Responses

  1. August 9, 2016

    […] already discussed how VR could enable medical intervention, in terms of surgeons requesting help or advice during a procedure. One great example of this is a […]

  2. August 26, 2016

    […] That Apple has been working on these technologies was recently part confirmed when Apple CEO Tim Cook said. “We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We are high on AR for the long run, we think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.” (For some ideas of the opportunity look here.) […]

  3. September 20, 2016

    […] Neither he nor Apple have said a great deal about what his role will be, but it seems crystal clear it will relate to delivering cutting edge connected health technologies, with a focus on sensors, remote patient monitoring and health outcomes — perfectly on trend with what’s happening now in digital health. (In future think about the impact of VR on healthcare). […]

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