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Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 08, 2021 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Getty Images At Apple’s annual launch event this week, it revealed new iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches, all of which were .| Getty Images

At Apple’s annual launch event this week, it revealed new iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches, all of which were refinements of previous models.

What Apple didn’t release, however, was a new kind of product — Apple’s “next big thing” which customers hope will be extremely cool and investors hope will drive another decade or more of Apple growth, like the iPhone did before it.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has always stressed “augmented reality” (or AR) in previous years. This is an acronym for technologies that combine advanced cameras with modern chips and are able to identify where items are relative to users and display computer graphics and information on a real-world screen.

Eventually, believers like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg say augmented reality technologies will be bundled into a headset or glasses, which could represent a sea-change for the technology industry like how the original iPhone’s touchscreen created billion-dollar companies.

However, Augmented reality tech was not mentioned at Tuesday’s launch, with the exception of one AR application that can be run on iPads.

Justine Ezarik, who goes by iJustine on her popular YouTube page, brought up the lack of AR at the launch in a video interview with Cook posted after the event.

In his answer, Cook repeated some of the things he’s said about AR in the past, but continued to be very bullish on the technology, calling himself “AR fan number one.”

I believe AR is one the most profound technologies we have. One day, we’ll look back and wonder how we lived without it. Cook agreed.

Cook stated that AR technology has three main purposes: education, collaboration, and furniture shopping.

Cook stated that AR is still in its early stages. The future is bright.

Competitors releasing glasses

AR backers say that wearing computer glasses will be a normal, everyday experience, like using a smartphone is today.

Apple has never confirmed it is building AR headsets, despite buying several startups working on key building blocks like transparent screens built into lenses and hiring hundreds of employees to work in its Technology Development Group on the project.

Apple is not the only company that has released headsets.

Facebook released camera-equipped Ray-Ban sunglasses this week, which the company says is a precursor to more advanced products. Microsoft has been developing a high-end headset called Hololens and has a contract with the U.S. military potentially worth billions of dollars. Google kicked off The obsession of Silicon Valley with computer glasses was evident in the release of Google Glass (2013).

Apple’s lack of AR announcements isn’t a sign that Apple has lost faith in the technology. Apple’s launch events are focused on hardware and products customers can buy now — not providing clues about releases in upcoming years.

None of Apple’s new devices has AR hardware. This is unlike the models that had lidar sensors which can determine how far an object is. New iPhone Pro cameras have an improved night mode. This could prove to be useful for headsets that are used in low light.

Apple’s AR feature has been treated as software so far. It created tools called ARKit or RealityKit that allow app developers to create AR apps for iPhone without having to deal with complicated physics, such as triangulating the user’s exact location and detecting their hands and faces.

These tools were available before Apple’s event. Apple launched a website where AR-capable iPhones users could access a file which created an interactive map of California.

Apple’s new city navigation feature in Apple Maps.

Apple

The iPhone software launching on Monday, iOS 15, includes a mode where Apple Maps overlays walking directions onto the real world — big arrows telling the user where to go, on the iPhone’s screen — in a preview of what could be a major feature for a headset.

These technologies have a challenge. Many people within the industry prefer to call them “mixed realities,” although it is more technical. The CEOs of Microsoft and Facebook, which are perhaps the most enthusiastic big companies about augmented reality, have started to talk about a “metaverse,” or a digital world overlaid on top of the real world.

Cook and Apple are still sticking to “augmented reality” for the time.

There are many different terms. I’ll stay away from the buzzwords and for the moment just call it augmented reality,” Cook said in an interview with Time published this week.

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