The Future of Apple Augmented Reality Wearables Through the Lens of Steve Jobs & His Legacy

Today is the 10-year anniversary of the death of Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs. To commemorate the occasion, Apple has posted a message and a mini-documentary on its website.

But beyond Jobs’ visionary accomplishments, this anniversary is also an opportunity to peer into the possible future of what Apple has in store in the first decade after the passing of its passionate, trailblazing leader.

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In this area, there’s really only one direction in which to look: augmented reality. Specifically, smartglasses. So the question is, would Steve Jobs have been as focused on AR and a future smartglasses wearable as Tim Cook and his team have been?

A clue to the answer to this question is actually in the video posted on the Apple website.

During the nearly three-minute video tribute, a number of audio clips of Jobs speaking are filtered into the mix. The one Jobs quote that stands out is this one: “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been. And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple.”

Image via Apple

At this point, everyone can see that the puck is hurtling toward AR as the next major computing interface. Therefore, it’s fair to assume that Cook is executing on a vision that would have likely mirrored Jobs’, at least in general terms.

The inexorable path Apple’s wearables have made from our wrists with the Apple Watch in 2014, and into our ears via the AirPods in 2016, is now poised to make its way onto our faces, if all the rumors hold true.

But the product DNA of these wearables are primarily a post-Jobs enterprise, only tied to the co-founder via his launch of the companies first mobile device, the iPhone, in 2007. The burning vision and “one more thing” excitement of Jobs is gone, largely overshadowed by Cook’s profit margin pragmatism, with any glimmer of Jobs-like wonder passed off to Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering.

The magic of a Jobs product release did manage to hang on for a while after his passing through the hands-on involvement of his collaborator, former design chief Jony Ive. It wasn’t quite the same, but knowing that the person introducing new products was also the person who had a hand in Jobs’ vision dating back to the ’90s was reassuring.

In an opinion piece published by The Wall Street Journal this week, Ive took time to recount the importance of his collaboration with Jobs.

“He was without doubt the most inquisitive human I have ever met. His insatiable curiosity was not limited or distracted by his knowledge or expertise, nor was it casual or passive. It was ferocious, energetic and restless. His curiosity was practiced with intention and rigor,” said Ive, who, interestingly, holds a pair of glasses in his portrait.

That detail might normally be meaningless in a broader context, that is, if it weren’t for the fact that Ive is notoriously detail-oriented and surely understood that his holding a wearable product might spark some conversation among Apple watchers. (Also notice, there’s no Apple Watch on his wrist.)

Screenshot of Jony Ive’s story in the Wall Street Journal. Image via WSJ

“Being curious and exploring tentative ideas were far more important to Steve than being socially acceptable,” said Ive. “Our curiosity begs that we learn. And for Steve, wanting to learn was far more important than wanting to be right.”

These characteristics are the fundamental traits that will be needed to usher in the age of mainstream smartglasses. So far, Cook has held true to Apple’s Jobs-era tradition by watching other companies make the first early mistakes, content to sit back and learn rather than claim first-to-market kudos. Currently, Snap, Amazon, and now Facebook (as well as a range of other, smaller players) are all now taking those first-to-market smartglasses wins and losses associated with such a new and unproven category.

Meanwhile, the rumors of a 2022 Apple face-mounted product persist. But this all comes at a bit of an inflection point. The nimbleness and swagger of Apple have, in recent years, given way to more of a conservative approach to the market, with the company regularly releasing incremental new products and features rather than making any big splashes. However, in the realm of smartglasses, there’s no such thing as a sedate launch. Simply entering the space is a huge bet, even now, at this late (still early for consumers) stage.

If Apple Glass does launch next year, it will be with nearly six years of Snap Spectacles learnings, and one year of Facebook Ray-Ban Stories consumer interactions having been considered. And, like the iPhone before it, which some predicted would fail in some regions, as well as the Apple Watch, which suffered its own fair share of shade at launch, Apple’s Smartglasses product will likely be dinged as a mistake, and mostly superfluous, at first. Nevertheless, if Apple can tap into the product marketing alchemy of Jobs, one more time, it could once again lead the way into a brand new computing frontier.

Personally, I’ll be watching closely, but from another perch, as this is my last day at Next Reality as I move to another exciting media enterprise (mentioned a couple of weeks ago). The fact that my exit coincides with Jobs’ anniversary is a bit of a treat.

Hopefully, by the time Apple’s next major wearable arrives, the road to mainstream AR will be even clearer and filled with even more excitement and innovation. Until then, we can reflect on the legacy of Steve Jobs and how his early work laid the foundation for an exciting new future that even he couldn’t have envisioned during his epic tenure.

Cover image via Apple