REUTERS/Robert GalbraithThe tech world had one thing on its mind this week: virtual reality.
We saw a load of intriguing games from Facebook's VR company Oculus. Sony announced pricing for its PlayStation VR headset, and it's poised to be the early favorite in the category. And we got a look at the impressive HTC Vive.
VR is supposedly the next big thing in consumer tech, and everyone is geeked out on the possibilities. It's going to change gaming. It's going to change social networking. One day, it's going to eliminate most of the screens in your life.
Exciting, right? Yeah!
Now let's fast-forward to Monday, when Apple is expected to announce a new iPhone that looks exactly like the 2.5-year-old iPhone 5s and a new 9.7-inch iPad that's launching into a market that just doesn't seem interested in tablets anymore.
Boring, right? Yeah.
This week we got a look at the future. Next week will feel like we're stuck in the past.
Nicole Kasper/Flickr (CC)But let's get ahead of the gloom-and-doom Apple headlines bound to hit Monday and put things in perspective.
First of all, it shouldn't be surprising that Monday's Apple event will be low-key compared to the mega-event it held last fall to announce the iPhone 6s, new Apple TV, and iPad Pro. This time, Apple is holding the event in its modest auditorium at its headquarters in Cupertino, the same place it introduced relatively minor products like the iPad Air 2. The venue alone is a sign from Apple that it isn't about to knock our socks off with some sort of revolutionary new gadget.
Then there's Apple's absence from the VR/AR space at a time when all of its competitors are dabbling in it. But the reality is this: We're still a few years away from VR/AR becoming mainstream. The technology is prohibitively expensive — the Oculus Rift costs $599 and requires a $1,000+ PC to run, for example — and is almost exclusively focused on gaming right now. Plus, the headsets are far too cumbersome to be worn all the time or outside the home.
Would you want to be seen in public like this?
That doesn't mean Apple isn't thinking about VR and augmented reality. As Tim Bradshaw of The Financial Times reported in January, Apple has a team of hundreds looking into AR and VR. You don't dedicate those kind of resources to a project unless you think there's real potential there, and Apple CEO Tim Cook himself said in January that he thinks "it's really cool and has some interesting applications."
Apple's approach to new technology is the opposite of the open-door policy you see from competitors like Google and Samsung, which test new concepts in the public. Apple's R&D takes place behind closed doors and layers of security. Just because we're not seeing it doesn't mean Apple isn't dabbling in it.
For now, Apple is a one-trick pony, but it just happens to have the most important trick in technology today: the best smartphone you can buy. As long as Apple continues to lead with the iPhone, it's impossible to call the company boring — even if Monday's event is a snoozer.