Sixteen years ago, Steve Jobs took to the stage at the Macworld Expo and revealed the iPhone. There had been rumours circulating for months, if not years, that an Apple smartphone was coming but the result was still a surprise.
I remember at the time being a big fan of the click wheel, and wondering how Apple would integrate it into a phone – then being disappointed when it didn't. I also wasn't convinced that a phone with no physical keyboard would ever really take off. How wrong I was.
The iPhone wasn't the first smartphone by a long way, but like many great products it took a new approach to the solution and managed to improve the way it worked. The first iPhone was easy to use (there was no manual) and extremely stylish for the time – even if now it feels rather small and chunky. There's no doubt though that it achieved what it set out to do, which was to reinvent the phone.
Now in 2023, Apple is about to enter a new market – the mixed-reality headset, expected to be called the Apple Reality Pro. According to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman (opens in new tab), it's been in development for seven years, but it's finally ready to see the light of day.
The market for VR and AR headsets has certainly matured in recent years, with models from Oculus (now Meta), Sony Playstation and HTC leading the way. The interest in mixed reality is bigger than ever, and the technology now seems to be there to make it useable. So, perhaps Apple has timed its arrival perfectly.
While virtual reality, or VR, lends itself to games and full emersion, augmented (AR) or mixed reality has a much wider potential. Yes, you can still game, but you can also enhance your environment, adding digital elements to real life. Need a bigger TV on your wall or a giant monitor? You've got one. Want to explore a 3D model on your dining room table? Consider it done. There's even potential for personal navigation, translation and social media interaction.
The limits and the uses of these mixed-reality headsets are still unknown, but if Apple could repeat what it has done with the MP3 player, tablet, phone and watch, this could be a very exciting time.