Since the original iPhone launched 13 years ago a lot of people have been waiting for Apple’s next big product category. Since then we’ve had the iPad, Apple Watch, and AirPods all of which have sold well but Apple’s next venture is into Augmented Reality. This new industry has started maturing and Apple is stepping in with a pair of Augmented Reality Glasses.
Augmented reality (AR) is a technology whose goal it is to augment or enhance one’s physical environment by adding digital elements. It is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory. AR can be defined as a system that fulfills three basic features: a combination of real and virtual worlds, real-time interaction, and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects.
Years in Making
Previous patent filings show that Apple has been exploring Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies for more than a decade. The company has established a secret research unit comprising hundreds of employees including members from companies such as Microsoft, Magic Leap, Oculus, and organizations such as NASA and Virginia Tech. They’ve also acquired a bunch of companies in the AR and VR space.
Starting from Google Glass and Snapchat Spectacles to Microsoft Hololens, Magic Leap and Facebook’s upcoming AR glasses many have tried and are trying to make this technology work. This landscape could suddenly get very crowded very fast but so far it’s mostly been in vain. There hasn’t been any mainstream success beyond the dedicated tech community and Apple may change that.
Making the Complex Simple
If there’s one thing that Apple is good at its making technology simple for the masses. In the 80s they changed personal computing by popularizing or stealing depending on how you look at it Xerox’s graphical user interface (GUI). It changed computers from lines of text that were often confusing, frustrating, and error-prone into a graphical interface that everyone could understand. In 2001 they made portable music less of a chore to navigate and of course in 2007 Apple made smartphones accessible, they took the chunkiness out of the user interface. Before the iPhone, it was the buttons of a Blackberry or the frustrating touchscreen of an LG Prada capacitive multi-touch changed the game.
Having simplicity at the core has proved to be a successful strategy for Apple and a new product category like augmented reality is the perfect arena to push the strategy further. John Prosser says that these new glasses will be called “Apple Glasses” he mentioned that the product will look similar to Ray-Bans or the glasses that Tim Cook wears. He describes them as un-intimidating and normal looking.
Apple Glasses: Hardware
The price of Apple Glasses is said to be $499 which is surprising for Apple, for instance, Microsoft’s Hololens 2 has a price tag of $3500 but much of that cost comes from all the electronics needed to run the AR experience being built into the headset itself. on the other hand, Apple glasses are said to be run from the phone much like the first generation Apple watch.
Each lens is said to have a resolution of 8k which puts it above most TVs the release date for the glasses is said to be around 2022 or 2023. According to the leaks, there’s going to be no cameras on the glasses for privacy reasons. in the context of wearing glasses having a camera pointed at you when someone is looking at you will be off-putting to many and this problem was one of the main reasons why Google Glass failed.
If there’s no camera the question has to be asked how Apple Glass will be able to see the environment to make all of the AR happens?? Well, that’s going to be done with a technology called LIDAR (Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging). LIDAR uses lasers to scan an environment and visualize distance and the shape of objects; it’s similar to how bats use sound waves to see their surroundings. LIDAR sensors are also used in self-driving cars. Apple already uses this technology in its latest iPad pro. iPad pro LIDAR scanner is already good enough to create a detailed mesh of its surroundings it can recognize the furniture, people, and more.
The iPad Pro and the next iPhone could end up acting like a development kit for the glasses sensors. Analyst Ming Chiku expects the AR glasses to be marketed as an iPhone accessory and as mentioned the computation processing networking and positioning data will all be offloaded to the iPhone.
The iPhone already has AR and Computation chips built right in, seems like Apple designed these phones with the glasses in mind. Offloading all the processing to the iPhone will allow the glasses to remain slim and lightweight. According to a Bloomberg report, there’s a new Apple patent that allows the streaming of information from your phone to your face specifically the glasses.
It is expected to synchronize with iPhone to display things such as text, emails, maps, and games over the user’s field of vision. The system will be capable of identifying vision problems and will automatically adjust the refraction of the displays and lenses to help a user see. This will eliminate the need to wear prescription lenses beneath the augmented reality device.
Apple Glasses: Software
Bloomberg has also said that the glasses will run on rOS or Reality Operating System. rOS is said to be based on iOS and there’s already code in iOS 13 indicating a stereoscopic software called Star-Board. iOS 14 is said to have support for a handheld controller remote, the user interface can be controlled by performing gestures on the frames or by using your hands in front of them.
Augmented Reality apps and games have been available since iOS 11 thanks to AR Kit now there’s a huge range of apps and games blending digital objects with the real world. AR kit has demonstrated that Apple already has the entire tech to do this today and these software releases may have been in preparation for the glasses this whole time.
Since the launch of this new product category and platform is still a while away the details could be subject to change.