It's no secret that Apple and its CEO, Tim Cook, have a keen interest in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies - and Cook has only reinforced this impression in interviews. Apple's strategy in this field will generate significant consequences for the event planning and audio visual technologies spaces in the years to come.
"I think AR is extremely interesting and sort of a core technology," he told the Washington Post last year. He also told Bloomberg that people will soon have "AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you."
There are a number of different methods of delivering VR and AR technology in the market. On the VR side, the best known offerings come from high-powered, computer-attached headsets like the Oculus Rift and HoloLens, which deliver immersive audio visual experiences - at a cost. AR, which effectively overlays data, imagery and more on top of the real world, is less widespread at this point, and the most well-known application - Google Glass - drew as much derision as it did hype.
What is Apple working on?
Apple has never been in the business of standing at the bleeding edge of technological trends - they didn't make the first personal computer, MP3 player, laptop, touch-screen phone or smart watch, after all. Apple has always refined existing products, making them powerful and stylish and sourcing the parts affordably enough to sell them at a modest premium.
According to Bloomberg, there are definitely plans at Cupertino for a Google Glass-style device, which would sync up to the iPhone via a wireless connection and overlay a variety of media on to the user's vision directly through a dedicated set of wearable hardware using near-eye technology. Apple and Cook appear to be generally opposed to a fully-enclosed, Oculus Rift-style experience, where the user must look at a digital display of everything in front of them, rather than using near-eye displays and headphones to display audio visual imagery on your actual vision.
According to Bloomberg's sources, Apple is also looking at features that affect the iPhone's camera abilities, such as one that would give phones the capability of taking a photograph and manipulating specific segments of it, as well as characteristics such as depth of field, to allow the image to be manipulated and rotated in real time. Macrumors reported that other technologies under discussion include augmented reality filters including those employed by Snapchat and real-time object recognition.
More recently, Apple announced a number of updates to the Apple Mac operating system at the Worldwide Developer Conference, delivered via the upcoming High Sierra Update. Most notably, Apple's computers will now boast native support for VR headsets like the HTC Vive (although not, as of yet, the Oculus Rift).
What's the potential impact on event venues and planners?
VR and AR technologies promise to reshape society and commerce in unpredictable ways, but there are already some compelling applications for them in the event planning and audio visual spaces. Use of 3D cameras and virtual reality hardware could allow potential clients or suppliers to take a "virtual tour" of a space, seeing how it looks in real life (more or less) and get a much better sense than a static, 2D picture could ever create. Now that more Macs will be able to handle VR rendering, it may be possible to spread this capability further than ever before.
This VR application may also help designers and venues conduct better event planning with more creativity, allowing for a broader range of experimentation and flexibility in the design process. You could mock up different setups, audio visual installations or floor plans, then walk through them in VR. Alternatively, planners could employ AR technologies on their phones or other devices as they set up the venue, streamlining the process and offering additional capabilities.
"Such technology might become as ubiquitous a conference staple as iPhones or Macbooks."
For the event itself, VR stations or venues powered or assisted by Apple hardware and software could become a compelling exhibit or draw - for most people, the experience of virtual reality is still a novel and exciting one. Already, such attractions are becoming a staple at certain tech, AV and gaming conferences.
Looking further down the line, there's potential for true AR devices to actually change the way events flow in real time. Imagine every attendee being directed to the right rooms and spaces by a digital overlay, receiving live updates directly in their line of vision and having interactive augmented reality experiences. Of course, this demands that most attendees have their own enabled devices or are provided with them - but if Apple makes the right moves, such technology might become as ubiquitous a conference staple as iPhones or Macbooks within a few years.
There's a lot of potential here, and a lot of unanswered questions. Much will depend on how, when and where Apple makes its next big VR play - and whether the industry is ready for it.