Tim Cook’s visit to Shopify all about augmented reality, as Apple CEO praises ‘profound’ emerging technology

Apple CEO Tim Cook took in a demonstration of Canadian e-commerce platform Shopify’s augmented reality capabilities during a visit to Toronto, while touting his company’s investment in the emerging technology.

“I believe that AR is the most profound technology of the future,” Cook said in an interview. “It amplifies human performance. It amplifies humans, not substitutes, and doesn’t isolate. I’m a huge believer in it.”

Cook’s agenda during his visit to Toronto is heavy on meetings with developers and coders, but he has also made students a priority on this trip, visiting Sheridan College on Tuesday and surprising a Grade 7 Scarborough classroom participating in a coding session at a Toronto Apple Store on Monday.

The focus on augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) is key for Apple, which released tools last year that allow developers to add AR experiences to apps. The company has also said that the newest iterations of the iPhone were engineered specifically with AR in mind, and Apple recently launched an iMac Pro to allow developers to create AR and VR on the Mac for the first time.

The global augmented and virtual reality market size is expected to hit US$215 billion by 2021, according to a study by statistics company Statista.

I believe that AR is the most profound technology of the future

“I see AR taking off very quickly,” Cook said. “I see developers across Canada adopting at a very fast rate, bringing their craft to market and I couldn’t be happier with it.”

During his visit to Shopify’s Toronto office, he watched three AR-specific demonstrations that the company said it is developing for its more than 500,000 merchants. The highlight was a combined AR and VR demo that allowed Cook and a member of the development team to digitally see and interact via an iPad with another employee, who was wearing a VR headset and acting as a merchant.

“I’m a big fan of Shopify. I love the fact that their focus is on democratizing technology for entrepreneurs that are largely artisans and bringing their products to market so that these merchants can focus on what they are great at,” Cook said.

Shopify chief executive Tobias Lütke said that his company is planning to use Apple’s ARKit to become the largest AR-enabled ecommerce platform. The goal is to offer small businesses the latest in technology, something that is usually reserved for large, well-resourced companies.

“What Shopify then can do is that we know this is going to happen, we can establish some patterns, and we can get this productized to the point where it’s going to be a single clink for every store,”Lütke said.

“The internet ought to be a force for democratization, but yet we see the story over and over again that it actually is placed into the hands of the companies already at scale and often one of the forces that puts the smaller businesses out of business.”

Cook’s visit coincides with an announcement that Apple’s delayed entry into the smart speaker market will be available for sale in parts of the world starting Feb. 9. The HomePod is available for pre-order in the United States, Britain and Australia on Friday. No word yet on when it will arrive in Canada.

Apple has allowed Amazon and Google a head start when it comes to smart speakers, which has led some industry watchers to warn that it’ll be an uphill battle to catch up.

“They already are late to the game and know that, so they want to put their best foot forward at this point,” said Manish Nargas, a consumer and moble research analyst for IDC Canada.

“Siri is perhaps not as smart of an assistant as an Amazon Alexa or a Google Assistant is, but that said they want to make sure they are creating other use cases for the HomePod (such as music) and making sure from the get-go they are good.”

The HomePod was first announced at Apple’s developers conference in June, with an expected launch date of late 2017. In November, the company said it needed more time and pushed the release date into 2018.

Cook said Apple’s experience in integrating hardware with software and services will set its offering apart from similar products by Amazon and Google. “Competition makes all of us better and I welcome it,” Cook said. “(But) if you are both trying to license something and compete with your licensees, this is a difficult model and it remains to be seen if it can be successful or not.”

Apple’s HomePod features larger speakers for better music playback and integrates with Siri, the company’s digital assistant and other services, such as Apple Music.

“We think one thing that was missing from this market was a quality audio experience, a very immersive audio experience,” Cook said. “Music deserves that kind of quality as opposed to some kind of squeaky sound.”

Special to the Financial Post


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