Did Apple just tease its plans to enter the metaverse game?

Chief executive Tim Cook says more AR apps are expected to be added to the App Store, and that the iPhone-maker is 'investing accordingly'

Tim Cook says Apple is 'always exploring new and emerging technologies'. AP
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Apple may have just teased it plans to enter the metaverse when chief executive Tim Cook said the company was planning to expand the number of augmented reality applications it has on its App Store – another big signal that the emerging digital space is gaining traction.

Mr Cook, responding to a question during a conference call in which the iPhone-maker announced another record-breaking quarter, said the number of AR apps on its platform – pegged at over 14,000, according to Mr Cook – will rise with more investment.

“Well, that's a big question. But we're a company in the business of innovation. So, we're always exploring new and emerging technologies. You've spoken at length about how this area is very interesting to us,” Mr Cook said.

“Right now, we have over 14,000 AR kit apps in the App Store, which provide incredible AR experiences for millions of people today. And so, we see a lot of potential in this space and are investing accordingly.”

Morgan Stanley's Katy Huberty, who raised the question, used “metaverse” in her query; Mr Cook did not use the term in his response to the question, nor in the entire call.

The metaverse is an emerging digital space that allows those in it to communicate and move using three-dimensional avatars or digital representations, connected by multiple virtual worlds. While not new, it is considered the next big step in the future of interaction and gained significant attention when Facebook rebranded itself as Meta Platforms last October.

This week, in a bid to drive home its point, Meta unveiled a new supercomputer capable of building next-generation artificial intelligence infrastructure and foundational technologies to boost research in the field of metaverse.

The metaverse is also slowly, but surely, registering a growth in demand for jobs, in a sign of its imminent integration with the future digital economy, experts said at the Intersec 2022 conference in Dubai, earlier this month.

That's a big question. But we're a company in the business of innovation. So we're always exploring new and emerging technologies. You've spoken at length about how this area is very interesting to us ... And so we see a lot of potential in this space and are investing accordingly
Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple

And as it further blurs the boundaries between the real and virtual worlds, the concept is driving social networks to advance their capabilities to the “metaverse movement”, London-based research firm Euromonitor said this week in a study that listed the metaverse among the top consumer trends to look forward to in 2022.

The global market size of the metaverse was estimated at $47.69 billion in 2020 and is expected to hit almost $830bn in 2028 at a compound annual rate of 43.3 per cent, according to Vancouver-based Emergen Research.

A Bloomberg study, on the other hand, sets the figure at $800bn as early as 2024. It also points out the market opportunity can expand to encapsulate live entertainment – such as concerts and sports events – as well as fighting for a share of social-media advertising revenue.

Apple is not new to the AR industry, as its devices, including the iPhone and iPad, are AR-capable. At its visitor centre outside its Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, there is a bare aluminium alloy structure that, when viewed through a specially configured iPad, gives an AR tour of Apple's sprawling headquarters.

Bloomberg and noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo have both reported that Apple plans to introduce an AR headset by this year or in 2023, with glasses to follow. Apple, however, has not publicly acknowledged any plans and does not comment on speculation.

An aluminum alloy model with augmented reality showing the finished Apple Park is displayed at the Apple Park Visitor Center on November 17, 2017 in Cupertino, California. (Photo by Amy Osborne / AFP)

However, Mr Cook's comments, along with Apple's record-breaking performance in its 2022 fiscal first quarter, drove Apple's stock up. The company rallied almost 7 per cent on Friday in what was its biggest one-day percentage jump in 18 months.

Apple on Thursday reported record quarterly sales and net profit despite supply chain challenges. Net profit rose more than 20 per cent to about $35bn from the same period in the previous year, and was up by about 68 per cent from the preceding quarter. Revenue rose 11.2 per cent to more than $123.9bn, besting analysts’ estimates of $118.6bn.

Earlier this month, Apple announced that developers on its App Store ecosystem have earned more than $260bn through the sale of digital goods and services on the platform since its launch in 2008. In 2021, they earned $60bn on App Store, almost $15bn or over 33.3 per cent more than 2020 earnings.

Updated: May 17, 2023, 3:37 PM