Epic and Apple are at war. Each is positioning itself as the champion of its users.
Epic claims that it’s fighting for their right to load apps and pay for them however they want. Apple argues that its walled garden provides safety and privacy and hey, besides, we built it, it’s ours. Google is a major player in this battle too, but they’re slightly off on the sidelines.
At one level, this is a fight about fees: who earns them, how much they cost and who can control how we pay for apps and games.
The fight is being argued with terms like anti-trust and monopoly. It’s a battle as much for the hearts and minds of consumers and developers as courts of law.
Developers Are The Warriors
The battle between Epic and Apple will barely register with most consumers. There’s hardly an underdog in the fight: giant companies battling it out over their App Store cut isn’t going to get my friends and family riled up.
My nephew might care if Fortnite suddenly disappears on his iPad. More likely he’ll just flip over to a console and keep on playing, or switch to a different game.
But behind the posturing over caring for the consumer are developers. It’s their hearts and minds which are at stake.
Sure, you might not use Unreal. You might not even be a game developer. But if you’ve ever published to the App Store you have your own stories to tell: rejections that don’t make sense, guidelines that you can’t appeal, or struggling to cover your margins when Apple takes a 30% cut.
The companies want you to take sides. Epic is making a call to its revolution:
And Apple….well, Apple with the carrot of its massive user base and tools/APIs, and the stick of not being able to play if you don’t follow its rules.
Apple Is Cutting Off The Air For Unreal VR/AR
Apple’s response to Epic included threatening to cut off its lifeline to Unreal, the development engine that powers games (like Fortnite), VR and AR.
“It’s impossible to overstate Unreal Engine’s importance to the next generation of immersive devices. Epic’s software is now being used to generate photorealistic content for holographic 3D displays, giant 3D windows, AR headsets, VR headsets, game consoles, films, serialized TV shows, and even Weather Channel broadcasts. The company’s latest real-time ray-tracing demos look practically indistinguishable from reality, setting the stage for home computers to deliver cinema-quality 3D visuals. As of yesterday, Epic said that “millions of developers rely on the Unreal Engine to develop software, and hundreds of millions of consumers use that software.
Looking forward, I’m most concerned by Apple’s explicit reference to withholding “support of ARKit features and future VR features into Unreal Engine by their XR team.” It’s an open secret that Apple is working on AR/VR glasses, and Exhibit B suggests that Unreal Engine was going to power at least some of the glasses’ visuals.“
Augmented Reality and The Campaign For Access
These are the opening shots in a much longer war. And sure, it’s a war for the pocket book. But it’s also a war for access.
Some of those battles will be about fees or monopolies or rent-seeking. But some of them will be for the hearts and minds of developers.
Spatial computing, augmented reality, the ‘mirror world’ – whatever you call it, we’re rapidly approaching an era in which the entire world is clickable.
When we start wearing our computing on our heads, when VR and AR become indistinguishable, these battles over App Store fees will look quaint.
We won’t just be logging into Fortnite. Instead, we’ll be walking around, living our lives, and the whole world will be an interface.
Our glasses will give us directions. AR overlays on the maps we’re using in a new town will suggest a restaurant we might like, or nudge us to a tourist destination.
In under a decade we’ll be able to toggle world overlays on and off and see the world as if we’re on the set of The Mandalorian (which is filmed in Unreal!).
Walking down Main Street we can feel as if we’re on an island in Fortnite or a giant Pokemon battle arena.
The battle for access to what you see is a battle for computing which will sit in front of our vision during most of our waking hours.
1. Who Will Control Access to the Devices?
Right now, Epic and Apple (and Google) are fighting for access to your phone or tablet.
And sure, we use our phones a lot. But what happens when our computing sits on the bridge of our nose, and can be ‘seen’ most of our waking hours?
As Venture Beat reports, Unreal could be a key driver of Glass-based experiences. But who controls access to the interface in your prescription lenses?
2. Who Will Control Access to the Mirror World?
Flight Simulator has given us a sneak peek into what a true mirror world looks like.
It provides a one-to-one replica of the world in all its 3D glory.
Now, it’s actually a pretty low-resolution map when it comes to walking down the street. But it helps us visualize that there are companies creating mirror worlds.
Niantic has one, generated from user cameras (and other data). Google has one, generated via Maps, Street View, and satellite imagery. Apple has the start of one, as announced at WWDC. Facebook has said they’re generating one based on user photos.
So who gets access to these maps? You need a scan in order to place AR content effectively. There will be partial mirror worlds, open source maps, object scans and AR clouds that help your Tesla to drive itself.
The rules governing access to these mirror worlds will be another front in the war for access.
3. Who Will Control Physical Places and Objects?
Who owns the Eiffel Tower? If Snapchat makes a scan and overlays AR objects, is the City of Paris entitled to a cut if there is money made?
The battles between Epic and the platforms are about access to our digital platforms. But what happens when physical world participants jump into the fray?
Will a billboard owner in Times Square sue an AR company that replaces their billboard with a scene from Star Wars?
I’ve previously proposed that we’ll need a Creative Commons for physical objects. Property rights when the physical and digital merge will be another front in the battle for access.
We’re just at the start of a long war. It will be a war over money and rent seeking, for the hearts and minds of consumers and developers, but will mostly be fought over access.
The Epic/Apple/Google fight of today will look quaint compared to the battles to come. When the entire world becomes ‘clickable’ and when computing sits in front of our eyes, who has or is allowed access will decide who succeeds or fails in the coming change to the paradigm of computing.