There have been multiple rumours that Apple is developing an augmented reality (AR)device, going back well over two years. And things heated up in June, when the announcement of ARKit at WWDC 2017 made it clear that Apple is deeply interested in this area. And no surprise: with Google and Microsoft developing AR devices, it seems like a party Apple can’t afford to miss.
Is Apple making a pair of AR glasses? And what would it look like? In this feature, we look at all the latest Apple AR rumours, patents and possible release date rumours.
What is Augmented Reality?
First, a quick refresher on terms as many get AR and VR confused. VR headsets are mounted on the head in a similar way to Ski goggles, and completely block your view of the outside world. The VR headset tracks your head movement, and the 3D image displayed inside the headset moves accordingly. This makes it appear as if you’re wholly inside a 3D ‘virtual’ world.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, is where the glasses are see-through and you can still see the world around you, but an image is displayed in front of your eyes.
AR also hit the headlines in recent years, first thanks to Google Glass (which displays 2D images) and more recently with an upcoming headset developed by Microsoft called Hololens that embeds 3D images in the world around you.
Apple is known to be a trailblazer, but it’s still part of the Silicon Valley tech industry (albeit a more secretive one). If Google and Microsoft are all working on AR solutions, you can bet your bottom dollar that Apple also has a prototype in its labs.
Is Apple working on AR glasses?
According to a rumour first picked up by Bloomberg, Apple’s next project will be a Google Glass-style pair of augmented reality glasses and not a VR headset as originally believed. According to the news outlet, Apple has even gone as far as to discuss the project with its hardware suppliers, and even order a small number of “near-eye displays” for internal testing displays.
If Apple’s internal testing goes well and it moves on from the early stages of development, Bloomberg’s sources claim that the glasses will wirelessly connect to an iPhone and will display not only information but images and other data directly in front of the wearer’s field of view.
It’s said that the glasses won’t be made available until at least 2018, if ever, as Apple is notoriously secretive about its product development and the project could be canned at any moment.
More evidence of some sort of AR project comes from leaked Apple employeeinjury reports obtained by Gizmodo. While they’re mostly about mundane workplace injuries like cafeteria burns, there are two that stand out.
One involved someone testing an unknown prototype device who “experienced discomfort in her eye and said she was able to see the laser flash at several points during the study.” She was later referred to an optometrist.
Another involved an employee who “reported eye pain after working with new prototype, thought it may be associated with use”.
While these could reflect either an AR or VR device, an internal source told Gizmodo that the injuries were likely linked to an AR prototype Apple is working on, speculating that it could be “something like glasses with an overhead display”.
This suggests that Apple is gearing up for its next big product in the AR/VR industry: Apple Glasses.
Tim Cook: AR ‘a big idea like the smartphone’
Apple CEO Tim Cook is a fan of AR. He said in an August 2016 interview with The Washington Post that Apple is “doing a lot of things” in the augmented reality space, contrary to the popular belief that Apple was working on a virtual reality headset. He didn’t stop there though, as the Apple boss went on to claim that he thinks of it as a “core technology” for the fruit company.
“I think AR is extremely interesting and sort of a core technology” Cook stated during the interview. “So yes, it’s something we’re doing a lot of things on behind that curtain we talked about.”
Following on from these comments, Cook took part in a rare interview session at Sen. Orrin Hatch’s Utah Tech Tour in Salt Lake City in October 2016 where he again discussed augmented reality, although this time he gave us a better idea on what Apple may be working on.