It was quite heartening to see Apple stepping into the world of VR at WWDC 2017. In fact, it shows that Apple is now ready to get into a market that isn’t in its total control. Google, Facebook and Microsoft have already been offering something in this realm and it’s pretty clear exactly how they’ll be investing in VR and AR markets in future.
Apple has long been working on VR and AR, taking small incremental steps to bring its users a perfect experience on their VR/AR capable devices.
A few years back it secretly designated a team for working on its VR/AR projects. Besides there were some acquisitions of startups that were also working related technologies.
But since then, it has come a long way forward and has made some huge strides in VR and AR.
The latest from them is the introduction of VR capable Macs that they announced at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
Apple’s representatives took the stage to demo their first VR-capable iMacs ever. There was some heavy equipment on the stage with external Thunderbolt 3 GPU.
It was connected to AMD Radeon RX580 graphics card to power the VR experience.
ILM’s John Knoll used the entire setup for creating a Star Wars scene in VR environment.
So, with Apple already demoing its VR-capable macs at the WWDC event, let’s take a look at what upgrades Apple announced at this year’s WWDC.
- Metal 2: It is an extension to Metal Graphics API from Apple. With Metal 2, developers can now be able to bypass macOS windowing system for directly rendering to the device i.e. VR headset. It’s really important to make sure that there is low latency involved.
- Steam VR & HTC Vive: Both can work with your Mac now. It’s almost a year since Valve and Apple have been working in collaboration on this and it really shows Valve’s high business and technical confidence in the VR progress of Apple.
- External GPUs Now Supported Officially: It means that the developers having lower-end iMacs and MacBooks can now be able to connect their devices to external GPUs that’d be good enough for playing back VR.
- Unity & Unreal Engine 4: These are most used development environments right now for games and now they offer support for Metal virtual reality development experience on the latest macOS.
Something that lacks here is that nothing was made clear for consumers as to whether they’ll be getting a VR experience or not.
It was specifically mentioned by Apple that the support for external GPUs is meant primarily for the developers. Also, the splash page description about the new iMacs isn’t also aimed at gamers, rather content makers.
So, either Apple just wants to offer support to VR developers by allowing the experiences created by them to be consumed mostly on the third-party platforms such as Google’s Daydream, Facebook’s Oculus, and PCs that run SteamVR.
Or, there’s some bigger plan in place for the consumers that goes beyond external GPUs and Metal 2.
We must say this is just the first step Apple has taken into the world of VR and is still developer-focused but consumer party will surely come sooner or later.
Whether Apple comes up with some slide-in headset for new iPhones or releases something like a standalone Augmented Reality hardware, you never know.
But one thing is for sure that it will offer something like that in future.
Besides Mac, Apple has also devoted its efforts to offer some type of VR/AR experience on its iOS devices as well.
The new iPhones that have been announced recently come with A 11 Bionic SoC that turns out to be the standard in supporting AR on iPhones.
The chip comes with the power of Neural engine to offer speedy processing of heavy graphics involved in such an experience.
The latest iOS and macOS also support VR/AR experience on supported devices.
So, that’s all for now on Apple’s progress in the world of VR and AR. It has already done a great job to bring VR to its Macs and there is still a long way to go.
Be it a new hardware or something at the software end, there’s lot to come and Apple will ensure that its users get something that they haven’t experienced ever before.
James Barrett is a passionate writer who writes mostly about tech with a focus on Apple’s products, news and reviews. Currently, he’s a contributing author at Apple Pit.