Apple AR glasses could land in 2022 – according to new report

Could we really see Apple augmented reality glasses in 2020?
Apple AR glasses: The story so far
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It's the rumor that won't go away. Apple is making AR glasses and we could see them in 2023 according to a new report.

According to a new report, which cites internal presentations over at Cupertino, an AR headset will launch first in 2022, followed by AR glasses the following year.

But how could they work? What will they look like, and what kind of features can we expect? We've pulled together all the rumors, patents and other evidence that suggests Apple firmly has its sights set on launching smart eyewear.

Apple and AR: The story so far

Apple's reality: All the latest details on Apple's AR exploits

In 2017, with the launch of ARKit, people started to assume that the folks from Cupertino were working on some actual hardware despite its AR platform only working on its smartphones and tablets.

We've been hearing rumbles about AR and Apple for years, but there's been no credible reports of a timeline until now.

We've seen plenty of analysts predict a 2020 launch for Apple's AR headset but that doesn't seem to be the case now.

After The Information published its report, Bloomberg corroborated the timeline, and stated in its own article that the date had been pushed back from 2020.

Apple AR: Design

Apple's reality: All the latest details on Apple's AR exploits

The look and feel of Apple's smartglasses is a topic that has had almost no detail attached to it. Until now.

The Information's report suggests that the first release in 2022 – a headset – will be closer to a traditional VR headset with AR capabilities using external cameras.

You'll view the world through a screen that can blend the real and augmented worlds together, but you'll be very much immersed in the headset.

Coming just a year later – according to these reports – are more traditional glasses with AR capabilities. These would be designed like normal glasses, with smart features and much closer to the holy grail of facial wearables.

“Current prototypes look like high-priced sunglasses with thick frames that house the battery and chips,” reveals The Information – from a source allegedly close to the project.

Apple AR glasses: Features

Apple AR glasses: Latest details on Apple's augmented reality ambitions

The Information report claims senior managers at Apple believe its glasses could replace the iPhone in a decade's time.

But anyone that has followed Apple closely knows that when it launches products, less is more in terms of features. So expect simple notifications to start, from its more advanced AR glasses at least.

According to Bloomberg, in late 2017 Apple was reportedly unsure about how users will actually control the device. It looked at Siri, touch panels and head gestures to get around the interface. At the time, it appeared Apple hadn't settled on any of them yet.

That Bloomberg report partially corroborated a 2017 leak from alleged Foxconn insiders on Reddit. The leak claimed that the device would have a microphone, accelerometer and magnetometer. It would also use bone conduction for audio and sport a 428 x 240 resolution in champagne and black designs for both men and women.

The interaction methods were on par with the Bloomberg report. There would be a capacitive touch strip on the arm for volume and call functions, and head gestures to control apps and Siri.

The Siri claim seems natural given the rise of AirPods, and backed up with updated patents that included references to the voice assistant as a remote for smartglasses.

Also in the world of patents, Apple seems to have made plans for a finger-mounted device that would let you interact with objects, kind of like North's ring for its Focals smartglasses. Details of Apple's smart ring were fleshed out by another patent recently, too.

Apple AR glasses: Latest details on Apple's augmented reality ambitions

We've also found out that the glasses might have adaptive transition lenses, allowing them to adapt to harsh sunlight or glare, much like reactive glasses currently available without smart features. In fact, this makes it sound like the glasses could potentially double up as sunglasses.

Another fresh development comes in the form of Apple's new U1 chip, present in the iPhone 11 smartphone range. This chip introduces the potential for spatial awareness in devices, and could let your other devices, like an Apple Watch or your phone, become controllers that your smartglasses can track in space, an enticing proposition.

The chip could also let you much more quickly build a map of the area surrounding you in AR, using your phone's cameras or some embedded in the smartglasses.

There's a limit to how crazy Apple can go with its designs - they'll still be smartglasses, with lenses and arms. How chunky they might be, or exactly what shapes they'll be available in, though, is something we'll have to wait to find out.

Apple AR glasses: The software

Apple's reality: All the latest details on Apple's AR exploits

And then there's the software. The glasses are reportedly going to run a new fork of iOS called rOS, which stands for Reality Operating System. Apple has been prototyping AR applications for this new headset for some time, according to reports.

These apps are both rebuilt versions of Apple apps, like Maps and Messages, and brand-new apps like virtual meeting rooms and 360-degree video playback. We don't yet know how the interface will look or what rOS will be capable of, though.

We are told that rOS will have an App Store where you can download applications built for ARKit. And interestingly, Apple is internally using an HTC Vive and developing a Samsung Gear-like device to test AR applications for the headset.

This matches up with an earlier Bloomberg report, which says Apple had been in talks with potential suppliers for components of a glasses-like device late in 2016, and "has ordered small quantities of near-eye displays from one supplier" for testing purposes.

The device would connect to the iPhone and present images over the wearer's vision. It would show images and other information in the wearer's field of vision, and may use augmented reality, the anonymous sources said.

Obviously, if Apple is looking to build an AR device they're going to need test devices to work out interface and app development. Using virtual reality, a more advanced medium at this stage, is a good step toward doing that.

Apple AR glasses: The potential tech partners

Apple AR glasses: Latest details on Apple's augmented reality ambitions

But how will Apple go about actually making these glasses? It appears to be leveraging a range of established partnerships to build the hardware for its glasses.
For instance, all the way back in 2018 Nikkei reported that Catcher Technology, which makes metal framing and cases for the iPhone, was going to start making lightweight framing for augmented reality devices. It didn't confirm saying it's doing this for Apple, but the fact that it's a key partner for Apple makes it an easy leap.

Screen tech

According to Digitimes in 2018, is going to be on the first mainstream products to utilize MicroLED.
That's a technology that uses half the power, is brighter and higher contrast than regular AMOLED displays. Plus, it's thinner, which makes it easier to fit into lighter frames.

Apple AR glasses: Latest details on Apple's augmented reality ambitions

Apple is rumored to include MicroLED tech in future Apple Watches

However, this is far from a sure thing. Apple has been planning to debut MicroLED on the Apple Watch but hasn't been able to yet. Still, MicroLED appears to be the go-to tech for AR smartglasses, and it's likely they'll make their way into Apple's smartglasses at some point.

Back in early 2017, Robert Scoble said an anonymous Carl Zeiss employee told him the company was working with Apple on a light pair of augmented reality smartglasses. Carl Zeiss experiments on lenses for augmented reality, so if this is true it's likely that's where Apple's lenses could come from.

In terms of the glass itself, that will likely come from Corning, a big Apple supplier. Corning actually patented something called a Wide Field Display in late 2018, which is used for AR and enables a field of view between 40 and 70 degrees. A good number of AR glasses sport a field of view of 45 degrees, so that's not too bad, but it could be better.

Apple is looking to power this new device with a custom system-on-a-chip, much like it does with the Apple Watch. These chips would be able to power an 8K display for each eye. It would also be wireless tethered to a box that houses these chips, kind of like the Magic Leap One.

Apple AR glasses: Latest details on Apple's augmented reality ambitions

Fast-forwarding to more recent times, though, Apple recently had a patent discovered by Variety (above), showing a headset with facial recognition software built in. It was only filed in March 2019, showing that Apple is still making progress on AR in the background.

There is a bit of a wrinkle. Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple is readying an Apple Watch-like pair of smartglasses for an early 2020 release. As mentioned above, these glasses would be an accessory that lean heavily on your phone for power.

Apple AR glasses: The team

What's the latest with Apple's AR exploits?

That would be the same team behind ARKit, led by former Dolby hardware head Mike Rockwell, who has assembled a team consisting of veterans from Oculus, Microsoft's HoloLens team, Amazon's Lumberyard VR platform, Google Earth, and, perhaps unexpectedly, Hollywood special effects studio Weta Digital, which was behind movies like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Avatar.

Apple has also moved over people from its camera team to work on the project, which makes sense because the camera is vital for AR. The medium not only needs to be good at displaying virtual objects on top of real ones, it needs to be able to see and understand the world around you to do it properly.

Apple has also been snapping up augmented reality companies to bolster its talent. In November 2017, it bought startup Vrvana, who previously developed a mixed reality headset called the Totem.

Though it went unreleased and was mostly used for demos, the Totem used pass-through cameras on the outside to view the world and display it on OLED displays inside the headset. Then it would overlay things on top of it, and could even switch to VR if needed. It's likely that Vrvana and the Totem are being used to develop Apple's AR glasses, rather than become a consumer product.

It also purchased augmented reality company Metaio, which was reportedly so sold on Apple's pitch for AR that it threw the bankers out of the room and wanted to sell itself to Apple for cheap. More recently, Apple has been picking up patents that Metaio had been working on.

Apple is also beefing up ARKit's abilities in iOS so that developers can do more things, like allow apps to remember where you placed virtual objects – so that if you close and open them everything is exactly where you left it.

Apple AR glasses: Challenges

Apple's reality: All the latest details on Apple's AR exploits

Augmented reality is not easy, and there are a number of technical challenges that need to be overcome in software, AI, graphics and manufacturing before a true mass-market pair of glasses is available. CEO Tim Cook has been very up front about Apple's challenges in the space. Speaking with The Independenta couple of years ago, he explained them.

"There are rumors and stuff about companies working on those – we obviously don't talk about what we're working on," Cook said. "But today I can tell you the technology itself doesn't exist to do that in a quality way. The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face – there's huge challenges with that. The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it's not there yet."

Cook continued: "We don't give a rat's about being first, we want to be the best, and give people a great experience. But now anything you would see on the market any time soon would not be something any of us would be satisfied with. Nor do I think the vast majority of people would be satisfied." He did conclude, however, that "Most technology challenges can be solved" but said it's "a matter of how long."

For a while, Apple was still trying to figure out compelling use cases for AR moving forward, according to Financial Times and Wired. It's also got multiple prototypes around, with some as simple as Snap Spectacles, recording video and relying on the iPhone as a display.

One thing is for sure: Apple has a real pair of AR glasses, according to AR-focused VC Matthew Miesnieks, who says he's spoken to people who have held them in their hands.

Even if Apple has figured out use cases, the Foxconn leak revealed there could be trouble behind the scenes. Chiefly, the employees noted there's currently a 65% chance that "Project Mirrorshades" is completely scrabbled. The 2017 leak said the smartglasses could be delayed until 2018 or 2019. We're in late 2019 now, and haven't seen anything yet.

However, that timeline was even more aggressive than the reported "aggressive" timeline of revealing the glasses in 2019 and releasing them in 2020. Even then, that seems ambitious as the tech doesn't seem fully ready, as per Cook's comments.