The Future of Apple Is Augmented
Andrew Wheeler posted on March 27, 2020 |
Apple’s New iPad Pro Gets LIDAR along with new “Magic Keyboard.”
(Image courtesy of Apple.)
(Image courtesy of Apple.)

Apple is a company that thrives on groundbreaking innovations in the form of new classes of consumer computing devices that become hit products. The iPod, the iPad and the iPhone were the last big hits for Apple. The company has slowly pulled away its backroom curtain over the last few years, revealing a keen interest in augmented reality (AR) as the way forward. As a nascent industry, AR has gone through many ups and downs since Apple released the first version of ARKit in 2017. Many AR startups from a few years ago have disappeared: DAQRI, Metavision and ODG are a few that come to mind.

The new iPad Pro is Apple following Microsoft’s lead with its professional tablet series, the Surface Pro. In 2015, Apple released its first generation of iPad Pro tablets. Each had more CPU power and storage for an additional cost. Microsoft’s Surface tablets came to market a few years earlier in 2012. Since then, the Surface and Surface Pro have featured a keyboard with a built-in trackpad and were marketed as competitors to the iPad.

The New iPad Pro (2020)

Apple has now released the latest iPad Pro with a keyboard attachment on the way. The “Magic Keyboard” is a first for Apple, as it includes a trackpad, and will be available starting in May for $300 or $350 depending on the size. The new iPad Pro comes in two sizes, an 11-inch and a 12.9-inch version. The full tech specs are here. The processor is incrementally faster than the last generation and the cameras are slightly more advanced. More memory means an additional cost, and the larger version has a higher resolution.

Interestingly, the latest iPad Pro has a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor, which is a 3D scanning technology commonly found in surveying and as part of autonomous driving vehicles. LIDAR is used to map environments and create a point-cloud 3D model for referencing in different applications and use cases. The LIDAR on the new iPad Pro measures the cartesian geometry of spaces up to 5 square meters. The LIDAR scan is transformed through software into a workable 3D model for use in other applications. Apple’s ARKit 3.5 is now open to developers worldwide.

Apple’s inclusion of LIDAR with its latest iPad Pro unit signals a firmer direction toward an AR product. Developers have reported that in Apple’s XCode 11 resides a reference to a set of smart glasses, and the company has previously filed a patent for an AR system that features LIDAR. This wouldn’t mean much if Apple wasn’t using the words “augmented reality” in its products and demos and on its website. Though still speculative in nature, many industry experts believe that Apple will release a pair of augmented reality glasses in the next few years.

Bottom Line

The ability to extend the familiar multi-touch of iPhones and iPads to a trackpad is likely going to extend the appeal of Apple’s iPad product line. The Magic Keyboard (with trackpad) will be available for most modern iPads running the latest version of iOS. As for smart glasses and augmented reality, Apple is certainly heading in the direction of a new class of product. Maybe it will be called “iGlasses” or “Apple Glass.” Nobody knows for sure yet (except perhaps key people at Apple), but the writing is on the wall.

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