As we enter a new year, it’s time for our annual ritual of synthesizing the lessons from the past twelve months and formulating the outlook for the next twelve. 2022 was an incremental year for AR & VR, which both continue to gradually push forward in gaining mainstream traction.

Highlights include mobile AR engagement & monetization, continued R&D in AR glasses, and the gradual march of VR. Amidst all this, the last year was also defined by the continued and irrational rise of metaverse mania. The hype machine is still in high gear, generating lots of vapor.

So where is spatial computing, and where is it headed? Aligned with the annual predictions of our research arm, ARtillery Intelligence, we’ve devised 5 predictions for 2023. We’ll break them down periodically on AR Insider, continuing here with prediction 2: Apple Enters AR… Kind of.

Annual Predictions: 2022 Lessons, 2023 Outlook

Near Term

All eyes in the XR world continue to be on Apple. The thought is that the company’s time-tested halo effect could make or break AR by mainstreaming the emerging tech. And if it can do that – as it’s done in the past with the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and wearables – it could raise all boats.

Because of this voracious anticipation, the rumor mill has been running in overdrive. And Apple itself has likely added additional fog through deliberate leaks and IP fillings. It knows the world is watching. There are many distractions and red herrings in the art of predicting Apple’s moves.

All of that said, there are several signs that Apple will unveil a VR-like entertainment device in January 2023 (the same month it unveiled the iPhone), which will then launch at WWDC in late Spring (again, iPhone). This device would feed into its content ecosystem and its wearables line.

One reason for this initial VR approach is that the technology is attainable today. Apple will tap into the talent and tech that Meta has accelerated and established for devices like Quest 2 and Quest Pro. Apple’s device could be more aligned with the latter – in price and form factor.

As seen in the latest round of rumors, this could involve a VR-like device that offers passthrough AR via cameras. This would feed into Apple’s content ecosystem as a consumption device, while warming the world up for the real endgame, which needs more time in the oven: AR glasses.

Can ‘Apple Glass’ Bring AR to the Masses?

Long Term

That brings us to the longer-term play. An all-day wearable that checks style and utility boxes could fit right into Apple’s critical wearables play. To that end, a longer-term device will likely follow Apple’s playbook for a holistic ecosystem of devices that are integrated in elegant ways.

For example, line-of-sight visuals (more on those in a bit) will play on biometric signals from your Apple Watch and intelligent spatial audio from your AirPods. This is classic Apple in both creating elegant experiences and motivating you to buy several devices… like it’s done with iThings.

To pause for context, Apple is fighting maturation for its biggest earner: the iPhone. Its fast-growing wearables division has been able to counterbalance declines, so it holds a great deal of political capital in Cupertino. Anything that feeds into that revenue category is canonized.

Apple also has to shoot for big markets and mass appeal. That means style and wearability (think: North Focals). Any UX deficiencies in that “lite AR” approach will be countered by those “elegant integrations.” It will be experientially meaningful, even if graphically underpowered.

But don’t expect massive sales. Like other wearables’ sales historically, Apple will sell a few million units after launching around 2025… then ramp up over several years. To summarize, we could see a VR-like device with passthrough AR in ’23, followed by true AR glasses circa ’25.

We’ll pause there and circle back in the next installment with another prediction…

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