Not one to let Snapchat have all the fun, Apple is said to be exploring the smartglasses market in a serious way with Carl Zeiss, putting together a team consisting of veterans from Oculus, Microsoft's HoloLens project, Dolby, Hollywood special effects studio Weta Digital and more.
Bloomberg reports that Apple's AR team is run by former Dolby hardware head Mike Rowell, who also advised Meta, a small AR glasses company. He leads a team that includes engineers and executives from Oculus, Microsoft's HoloLens team, THX, Meta, Amazon's Lumberyard VR platform, Google Earth and, perhaps unexpectedly, Weta Digital, the Hollywood special effects studio behind movies like Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Avatar.
Apple has filled out the AR team with its own iPhone, camera and optical lens engineers. Further, earlier this year Robert Scoble said an anonymous Carl Zeiss employee told him that Apple was working with Carl Zeiss AG "on a light pair of augmented reality / mixed reality glasses that may be announced this year".
That word "light" is promising and suggests a glasses form factor - like Google Glass (pictured) - rather than helmet/visor/headset. It also lines up nicely with Apple's obsession to build the thinnest and lightest products possible. But though Scoble said he believes the AR smartglasses could launch this year, Bloomberg reports that the glasses are "further down the road."
In November we reported on word that Apple could launch a mixed reality TV within the next year. And Bloomberg's anonymous sources told it that Apple is looking at a glasses-like device, which may be linked t0 - but probably not the same thing as - said TV.
Apple's AR dreams will first be realized on the iPhone, according to the latest report. The iPhone camera team is already working on several AR-related features, like allowing you to place virtual effects and objects on subjects in your camera, kind of like a Snapchat filter. You'll also be able to adjust the depth of a photo afterward and be able to manipulate certain parts of photos, like tilt someone's head 180 degrees.
Further down the road
According to Bloomberg, Apple had already 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. We'll assume with Scoble's new info, that this is Carl Zeiss. The German optics company has been working on AR digital lens prototypes and its own VR headset line for a few years now.
The device would connect to the iPhone and present images over the wearer's vision - a la Google Glass. It would show images and other information in the wearer's field of vision, and may use augmented reality, the anonymous sources said.
It's not been much of a secret that Apple is looking into augmented reality right now, with Tim C0ok's comments on his interest being pretty explicit, not to mention the numerous patents which have surfaced and the fact that Apple has purchased a couple of companies, like Metaio and FlyBy Media, that are well-versed in AR software.
All of this doesn't mean a product is definitely on its way, and if it is, one of the sources said we shouldn't expect to see anything until 2018 at the earliest. It would be the second major new hardware category launched under Tim Cook, the first being the Apple Watch. Cook has also gently nudged away speculation that Apple would be going first to VR, saying that he sees more value in augmented reality. Tim Cook: all about the wearables.
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