Apple today announced that it was launching ARKit, an augmented reality platform, that makes the iPhone one of the biggest AR platforms. If it feels like something that Apple has been slowly building toward, that’s because it is.
Like all good things, it all goes back to Pokémon. Specifically Pokémon Go.
When Pokémon Go launched last year on Android and iOS devices, it revolutionized the way people thought of games on a phone. Pokémon Go became a craze that didn’t die down until later that fall. For many, it was a look into what the power of AR technology could do for the average smartphone user. For Apple, it was the first piece of software that the company saw as a profitable means of development and helped to reinforce an entire sector of the company.
During a 2016 investors call, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about the success of Pokémon Go. Cook said that the immeasurable success the game had seen — by the third week of July, the game had more downloads than any other app in the company’s history, according to Apple. Cook said it was a promising statistic and proved that “AR can be really great,” according to The Guardian.
“We have been and continue to invest in AR in the long run,” Cook said. “We’ll see whether it’s the next computing platform, but regardless it will be huge.”
During its presentation, Apple executives showed off a number of ways ARKit can be used and the applications or games that will run through it. Front and center was a better version of Pokémon Go that will remain exclusive to the iPhone — paired with Apple’s newest iOS, iOS 11 — and a game from The Lord of the Rings’ director Peter Jackson’s studio. Wingnut AR, made entirely with Unreal Engine, was one of the more complex games demonstrated during Apple’s keynote and was one of the better examples of the type of experiences and games Apple wants to bring to iOS users.
Apple isn’t just placing its bets on augmented reality experiences, but it’s clear from the presentation today that the company wants to reemerge as a gaming platform. Along with ARKit, the company announced today that it had completely revamped the App Store, and bringing with it a dedicated games hub. The new hub, seen below, is easier to scroll through and comes with in-line videos that allow potential buyers to see the game in action from developers. Players will also be able to buy in-game items and upgrades directly from the game’s page on the App Store, instead of having to load the software and navigate through menus.
Games and AR are both areas that Apple wants to invest heavily in, but that shouldn’t be too surprising. Last month, Apple announced that its iPhone sales had seen another decline. When Cook was asked about it, the CEO attributed the lack of sales to consumers waiting for news on the next iPhone model, holding off on purchasing 7’s so they could grab the heavily-talked about 8. The issue, however, is that Apple saw declining iPhone numbers in 2016, too.
In October 2016, Apple saw a drop of 13 percent in iPhone sales. The message was clear: people are buying fewer phones. It’s not that iPhones weren’t in demand, according to analysts, but the issue was that everyone who wanted an iPhone had one. With hardware sales on the decline, Apple needed to focus its attention elsewhere and the company did — on software.
During an investor call last month, the one area that Cook wanted to talk about more than anything else was Services. This section of software, which includes the App Store (and the games in it) along with Apple Music, is one of the fastest growing sectors for the company. Just last quarter, Apple generated more than $7 billion in revenue from a variety of applications and games within the Services bracket. Prior to that, Cook confirmed that the company wanted to quadruple the profit from the App store by 2020, looking into new ways to do just that. That means Apple Music, exclusive streaming and, as seen today by the amount of time dedicated to it, AR and games.
So not only is Services the most profitable and fastest growing part of Apple’s business, but it’s also what will keep people using iPhones and, hopefully, buying more. Having a better version of Pokémon Go or exclusive AR games available through ARKit is a smart business model for the company.
Although Apple started looking into AR and VR far before Pokémon Go launched, but it was the success of the game that helped Apple decided to push forward as strongly as they have. Apple made 30 percent of every Pokémon Go download and, with more downloads at one point than Snapchat, made the company quite a bit of money.
Apple is going to try to reclaim some of the craze they saw with Pokémon Go with ARKit. It’s only a matter of time before anyone can tell if the company has pulled it off.