Apple announced the future this week, and you probably didn’t even notice


wwdc 2017 1200 wide
Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage at WWDC.
Stephen Lam/Reuters


Apple revealed its 10-year plan for the future this week.

If you don’t remember that slide from the hours of presentations
Apple execs made on stage during the company’s developer
conference on Monday, you’re not alone. 

Apple didn’t explicitly call it a 10-year plan. And the
company was very subtle about how it showed this roadmap. 

But look closely, and it’s easy to see.

Instead of introducing flashy new products that will change your
life today, this year’s WWDC conference was all about putting the
pieces in place for what comes next. 

It’s a Trojan horse strategy — sneak the seeds for the next
breed of technology products into the stuff that we’re
already using. 

A new augmented reality platform, virtual reality development
tools, the HomePod speaker, and improvements to iOS 11 on iPad
may not feel revolutionary or even particularly useful right now,
but they are the building blocks for the technologies Apple is
betting will power our future.

Let’s break it down:

Augmented reality


apple ceo tim cook AR demo on ipad WWDC 2017
Apple CEO Tim Cook demonstrates AR on an
iPad.

AP

Ask most tech companies today what product will replace the
smartphone and the answer will probably revolve around a wearable
device for “augmented reality,” the tech that overlays digital
images on the real world.

Microsoft has
the HoloLens headset
. Google has Project
Tango for Android devices
, and, one day, headgear like Google
Glass. Facebook announced its AR ambitions a few months ago, and
Mark Zuckerberg even said
AR glasses will replace the need for most screens in
your life
 one day. 

Apple’s approach is different.

There weren’t any AR goggle demos or TED talk-esque
prophecies about how a pair of glasses will soon be the only
computer you need. Instead, Apple is starting with something
already very familiar: the iPhone and a new way for developers to
build AR apps for the phone. When iOS 11 becomes available
on tens of millions of Apple devices this fall, Apple will
immediately have the largest AR platform. Even better, it’ll be
on the devices that people already use, not futuristic
glasses or headsets. Apple will get a major advantage over
its AR competitors with one simple software update.

That won’t
be game-changing right away
 of course, and it certainly
won’t deliver the kind of jaw-dropping experience being developed
by companies like Magic Leap. AR-enabled iPhones will mostly mean
some cool games and entertainment apps at first. Pikachu
will look more realistic in Pokémon GO. You’ll be able to build
virtual Lego models on your coffee table. The rainbow puke in
your Snapchat selfies will look even better.

But AR on the iPhone sets Apple up for the long run by
building a base of developers already dedicated to the
platform who want to make stuff for the largest amount
of users they can. If and when Apple decides to take AR to
the next level with a pair of smart glasses or something else,
it’ll be in a better position than companies trying to win over
developers.

Virtual reality


apple wwdc 2017 virtual reality demo
LucasFilm showed how you can build VR content within VR
on a Mac.

AP

Apple has been
hesitant to get involved with virtual reality
, even as the
rest of the tech industry seemed to be
hyperventilating over its prospects
. But now the time
feels right for Apple, and it’s offering a new set of tools in
the the upcoming macOS Sierra software that lets developers
connect VR headsets and create 3D and VR content.

This isn’t about attracting gamers and VR enthusiasts to the
Mac. This is about making sure Apple’s most dedicated class of
users have the tools they need to create the content of the
future. Apple has historically been the platform of choice for
digital artists, filmmakers, and other professionals, and adding
VR development tools will make sure those users have what they
need and don’t abandon Apple.

HomePod and ambient computing


apple wwdc homepod announcement phil schiller
Apple’s HomePod is Apple’s new Trojan
Horse.

AP

HomePod, the new Amazon Echo competitor, is Apple’s biggest new
Trojan horse of all.

Even though Apple
focused on HomePod’s music capabilities
and pitched it as a
new kind of home stereo, it undersold the rest of the real
potential. HomePod is also Apple putting Siri in your home
in a new way and making a long-term play for the concept of
ambient computing, where everything you own is connected and
powered by an underlying artificial intelligence.

HomePod is a way to put Siri everywhere else when you’re not
looking at your iPhone, typing on your Mac, listening to your
AirPods, or tracking your workout on your Apple Watch. HomePod is
Apple creeping into the rest of your life under the guise of a
really nice WiFi stereo. Apple may be focusing on music now
with HomePod, but it’s also sneaking in a lot of Amazon Echo-like
features like controlling your connected appliances and getting
updates from Siri.

That said, it’s pretty clear why Apple would want to bury the AI
features of HomePod. Pitching it as a digital assistant instead
of a music player will only open up Apple to more criticism about
how it is falling behind in AI compared to Google and Amazon.
Apple’s Siri is still much less capable as a virtual assistant
than the rival offerings from Amazon and Google, and Apple has a
lot more work to do to catch up. But there’s no question
that AI is a big area of investment for Apple, and HomePod will
play an important role in this strategy as Apple makes progress.

iOS 11 on iPad


apple greg joswiak unveils new iPad Pro
Apple’s
Greg Joswiak unveils the new 10.5-inch iPad
Pro.

AP

The biggest news with iOS 11 wasn’t on the iPhone. It was on the
iPad.

Apple has finally started making improvements to the software
that help turn the iPad into the laptop replacement the company
has been
promising for years
. There’s a new file storage system, an
app dock similar to the one on Mac, the ability to drag and drop
content in between apps, and apps that float in separate windows.
The iPad is starting to feel less like a giant iPhone and more
like a touchscreen Mac.

There’s still a lot of work to do. The iPad Pro’s keyboard isn’t
as good as the one on a normal laptop, and it’s now up to
developers to build compelling apps that take advantage of
all the new iOS 11 features and give people a better reason to
ditch their laptop for an iPad. The new 10.5-inch iPad is a small
move in the right direction since its larger size allows for a
full-sized keyboard, but it’s still not enough.

But Apple is inching closer towards its ultimate goal of creating
a super thin and portable laptop replacement, and iOS 11
feels like huge milestone. 

What’s next

A lot of this stuff may not work out. We’re in a period of
relatively flat innovation across most of the tech industry,
where new gizmos only improve incrementally year to year. It’s
impossible to tell which wild idea will actually end up taking
off and which will fizzle. (Two years ago everyone thought
smartwatches were going to revolutionize the tech industry, after
all. Now that’s barely part of the conversation.)

In some sense, Apple’s latest batch of WWDC announcements
feels underwhelming, like Apple is dabbling in various areas
rather than making a bold move in any one direction. But the
company’s vision for the future is already being etched
into its products. Just look closely, it’s right in front of
you.


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