Revamped Mac Pro to Address Current Model’s Shortcomings in VR and High-End Cinema Production

In the midst of a flood of reveals and announcements surrounding the Mac Pro and iMac, Apple today gave a hint as to what the upcoming Mac Pro will be able to accomplish for high-end, professional users. Although little information was given about the revamped Mac Pro, Phil Schiller described it as the "highest-end" desktop system the company has created yet, and that it will be "designed for our demanding pro customers."

TechCrunch asked Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, what the boost in the "pro" aspect of the Mac Pro will mean for the company's power users. In response, Federighi mentioned software capabilities in the virtual reality space, as well as tasks centered on high-end cinema production.

I ask who, exactly, the pro customers are that needed the more powerful GPU in a Mac Pro most.

“There’s certain scientific loads that are very GPU intensive and they want to throw the largest GPU at it that they can,” says Federighi. “There are heavy 3D graphics [applications] or graphics and compute mixed loads. Those can be in VR, those can be in certain kinds of high end cinema production tasks where most of the software out there that’s been written to target those doesn’t know how to balance itself well across multiple GPUs but can scale across a single large GPU.”
Virtual reality is a noticeable shortcoming of Apple's current Mac Pro line, as well as its iMac desktop computers. Although Federighi doesn't go into any more detail about how VR support might function on the Apple ecosystem -- including which headsets will be supported, and what software will take advantage of VR -- it's an interesting tidbit of information regarding the upcoming Mac Pro line launching sometime after this year.

In regards to virtual reality and augmented reality, in recent reports Apple has been more closely aligned with development on the latter technology, which doesn't require a cumbersome headset and can be used with technology already on modern smartphones, as it was in Pokémon Go. Still, specific hardware has been rumored to be in the pipeline by Apple, most recently including an Apple-branded pair of AR glasses that would connect to iPhones and "show images and other information in the wearer's field of vision," but they're predicted to be far from launch.

Apple has filed a collection of patents focused on virtual reality headsets that could in theory function with an all-new Mac Pro, but such filings have slowed down in recent years among Apple CEO Tim Cook's well-known preference for AR over VR. Over the past few months, Cook has referred to AR as everything from a "profound" piece of technology that could "amplify" human contact to an idea that could result in a paradigm shift as "huge" as smartphones.

Rumors currently suggest that Apple's AR glasses could launch in 2018, but any news regarding an Apple-branded VR headset have been quiet for over a year. As such, it's likely that the upcoming Mac Pro will support third-party VR headsets from companies already in the market.

Related Roundups: Mac Pro, Apple VR Project
Buyer's Guide: Mac Pro (Don't Buy)

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Apple’s AR Team Includes Talent From Lucasfilm and Weta Digital, Smart Glasses Still ‘A Ways Off’

It's been known that Apple has people working on augmented reality initiatives for future devices, which range from the technology's inclusion in a future version of the iPhone to separate "mixed reality" glasses. Today, a Bloomberg report has gathered all of the speculation surrounding Apple and AR together, while also providing some insight into a few lesser-known areas of Apple's AR project.

Apple's augmented reality team is said to combine "the strengths of its hardware and software veterans," along with new additions within the company, according to people familiar with Apple's plans. The team is run by Mike Rockwell, who came from Dolby, and also consists of Yury Petrov (formerly of Oculus), Avi Barzeev (formerly of HoloLens), Cody White (formerly of Amazon's VR project "Lumberyard"), Tomlinson Holman (formerly of Lucasfilm), and more.

A concept image of what AR on future iPhones could look like.

The total scope of Apple's AR team is rounded out by many camera and optical lens engineers, as well as "people with experience in sourcing the raw materials for the glasses." Apple has even included talent from 3D animation company Weta Digital, which worked on films like Avatar and The Lord of the Rings. This team of individuals, along with AR advocate Tim Cook, see the new technology as a way for Apple "to dominate the next generation of gadgetry and keep people wedded to its ecosystem."
Apple has built a team combining the strengths of its hardware and software veterans with the expertise of talented outsiders, say the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal strategy. Run by a former Dolby Laboratories executive, the group includes engineers who worked on the Oculus and HoloLens virtual reality headsets sold by Facebook and Microsoft as well as digital-effects wizards from Hollywood. Apple has also acquired several small firms with knowledge of AR hardware, 3D gaming and virtual reality software.
The separate glasses are said to still be "a ways off," but AR integrated iPhone devices could show up much sooner, said the inside sources. Bloomberg compared the AR glasses to the Apple Watch, mentioning that the technology would come with its own OS and likely be tethered to an iPhone to send images and content to the user while consuming a lot of power, forcing Apple to find a battery life solution that would fit in the wearable's small frame. In addition to battery problems, Apple will have to find a way to convince users to wear the glasses in the first place.

Explanations regarding the usefulness of AR on an iPhone remain scarce, but some feature details were also provided by Bloomberg today. The camera-specific abilities include ways for users to change the depth of an entire photo, or the depth of a specific object in the photo. In the past, Apple has cited interest in such technology, filing a patent for a digital camera with a refocusable imaging mode adapter that could be included in an iPhone. Former CEO Steve Jobs even met with a company, Lytro, who created the first light field camera.
Hundreds of engineers are now devoted to the cause, including some on the iPhone camera team who are working on AR-related features for the iPhone, according to one of the people. One of the features Apple is exploring is the ability to take a picture and then change the depth of the photograph or the depth of specific objects in the picture later; another would isolate an object in the image, such as a person's head, and allow it to be tilted 180 degrees. A different feature in development would use augmented reality to place virtual effects and objects on a person, much the way Snapchat works.
Apple is believed to be working on virtual reality technology, in addition to its interest in augmented reality, but with the success of apps like Pokémon Go the rumor cycle has taken to suggest that the company is betting more on AR. It's still unclear when a product including either piece of technology might launch. Recent concept images of the "iPhone 8" have taken a crack at visualizing AR features on an Apple smartphone, baking in "enhanced Siri" abilities and augmented reality directly into the user interface.

Although many companies continue to invest time and money into both AR and VR, data collected by a number of market research firms late last year suggested that sales for such devices were weakening amid consumer apathy, grown out of a lack of interesting content and expensive prices.

Related Roundup: Apple VR Project
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‘Weak Demand’ for VR and AR Causing Concerns for Companies Investing in the Technology

applevrheadsetSales related to virtual reality and augmented reality products "have been weaker than expected," according to data collected by a number of market research firms and shared by DigiTimes.

A lack of content and expensive prices, specifically for VR headsets, are two factors said to be at the center of the weak demand for the technology as 2016 closes out. The results could potentially have a negative effect on companies investing in VR and AR technology development, including Apple.

The market watchers noted that Sony's PSVR, Google's Daydream View, HTC's Vive, Samsung Electronics' Gear VR, and the Oculus Rift all ended up with sales figures weaker than their initial expectations. Coming out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday last week, the research firm SuperData noted that VR headsets have been "the biggest loser" this holiday season.

Because of the slower-than-expected consumer adoption of each technology, companies rumored to be investing in VR and AR products are believed to be feeling "pressured" about such investments. Specifically, HTC was noted as "seeing decreasing share in the worldwide smartphone market" while waiting for its Vive headset to contribute profits.
Many research firms' numbers also have shown that VR product sales in 2016 have been weaker than expected due to lack of content and high product costs. VR/AR technologies also require more improvement in order to stimulate demand from both the consumer and enterprise sectors.

It will take more time before the VR/AR market may begin enjoying robust growth, and such a slower-than-expected development is putting pressure on firms that have invested resources into related development, such as HTC, which is seeing decreasing share in the worldwide smartphone market while its Vive has yet to start contributing profits. The year of 2017 could be a difficult one for HTC.
Although Apple's relation to such technology has leaned more towards an AR experience -- most recently suggesting a feature that would be integrated into the iOS camera app -- the company has been rumored to be developing a full-on VR headset as well. If included in pre-existing apps within iOS, an augmented reality experience by Apple would be less risky for it to undertake, but some rumors also point towards a separate product category coming down the line.

It's unclear when Apple's decade-long investment in VR/AR development might come to fruition in a consumer product, but some basic AR experiences have already proven popular on the company's devices, including this summer's gaming phenomenon Pokémon Go.

Related Roundup: Apple VR Project

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