5 QuickTime lessons for Apple’s new AR chief

What has Apple learned from the evolution of its QuickTime standard that could inform its augmented reality (AR) development teams?

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In what I see as a signal of the importance of augmented reality (AR) to the company, Apple has put one of its most highly experienced executives, Frank Casanova, in command of AR product marketing.

Enabling the AR tidal wave

Casanova, Apple’s senior director of worldwide product marketing, led iPhone marketing for the original 2007 launch.

He was also one of those who evangelized Apple’s pioneering QuickTime multimedia standard. Given that QuickTime arguably helped Apple transform itself into a streaming media powerhouse, what lessons can he bring to Apple’s AR teams?

I imagine he may see AR adoption as a little like the explosion of 3G services. In the early days, when the U.S. was still coming to terms with cell phones, Japan was already embracing fully digital experiences.

That was certainly the case when in 2003, he told me: "If the Japanese market is any example of what will happen, it will come across Europe like a tidal wave.”

The rest is history: The digital transformation of everyday life, work, leisure, and every industry is accelerating. Here are some implications from the history of QuickTime – a standard you’ll now find inside almost every multimedia device on the planet – that may become relevant to Apple’s work with AR.

1. From end-to-end

Emerging from a backroom research project at Apple’s advanced technology research group, QuickTime became a fundamental element across the Apple ecosystem.

"Everything Apple does is based on QuickTime," Casanova said in 2003. "It is core technology that's built into OS X. It is the file format for Final Cut, iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD - they all rely heavily on it to manage a lot of their work.

"We provide the key technology to create a high-quality, advanced set of APIs that run incredibly well on a Mac to ensure those applications will also run incredibly well on a Mac."

QuickTime also became an element of the MPEG-4 and 3GPP standards, which is why you find it inside almost every multimedia device.

In other words, QuickTime became part of the entire creation, distribution, and consumption ecosystem of multimedia. It makes sense for Apple to move in a similar direction with its AR technologies, which have already spawned a trans-industry standard for AR objects, called USDZ.

2. Find a way to scale

QuickTime enabled Apple to develop its own suite of unique software solutions and services.

The aforementioned iMovie, for example, was a radical departure for an industry whose dominant computing platform (Windows) was at that time legendarily appalling at handling video assets. Apple’s shrewd decision to make iMovie a free tool inside every Mac and iPhone underlined its platform advantages and helped new talent find itself.

Naturally, this end-to-end standards support – baked into the platform at a fundamental level – also enabled Apple to introduce various media services, such as TV shows and movies via iTunes.

That’s something that continues to scale: Just look at Apple’s forthcoming movie and TV show streaming services as an example of this. I see no reason ARKit won’t evolve in similar directions.

3. Empowering creative people

Apple has always stood at the intersection between technology and the liberal arts. Within this mission, it has aimed to provide platform support for creative developers to build creative tools, as evidenced by the history of Apple/Adobe and the dizzying range of applications you can use on Mac, iPad, and iPhone.

Apple is doing the same thing with ARKit. It has very quickly built a user base of almost a billion compatible devices along with a set of off-the-shelf APIs (application programming interfaces) developers can use to create new experiences.

When you have a huge audience and an available toolkit, you empower creative people to do creative things. 

4. Partnerships are powerful

Apple has always worked in partnership with others since its inception.

When QuickTime became a multimedia standard in 2003, Casanova pointed out that establishing it as such required “dozens (of companies) working together."

When it comes to AR, Apple is already working with industry partners, including Adobe and Valve. We may see more of this – Apple’s recent move to open up AirPlay 2 to third-party televisions reflects an even deeper insight into partnerships – it simply depends on what makes sense.

At what point does mass market hardware availability of AR access devices translate into a mass market opportunity for cutting-edge AR experiences?

5. A hardware vision helps

We can already indulge ourselves in ARKit so long as we have a compatible iPhone or iPad. What else makes sense? QuickTime was shipped in the box with hundreds of third-party digital cameras and became a component on DVDs. What about ARKit on Apple TV? Or Apple glasses?

Weaving together platforms, partnerships, technologies, consumers, and developers around a brand-new media-based experience and productivity platform is a complex task. No wonder Apple’s put one of its most experienced chaps in charge

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