Wednesday, April 24, 2024
VR&AR

The story so far on Apple’s AR headset


Apple has been working on augmented reality and virtual reality technologies for years now, exploring that space without shipping must new hardware for it.


This isn’t really in doubt thanks to statements from the company, predictions from analysts, numerous patent filings, and Apple’s interest in growing its ARKit platform for AR apps and games.

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With a rumoured release window getting ever closer, here’s everything you need to know.

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Apple Glasses release date

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when any supposed Apple Glasses will arrive, due to many conflicting reports.

For a long time, a bunch of predictions were pointing at 2022, which is obviously now in the rear-view mirror.

2023 is also on the cards, though, as convenient as that might sound. In early 2021, reports suggested that the company was set to enter the “second phase of development”. Around the same time, it emerged – via a detailed Bloomberg report – that Apple will most likely introduce a niche VR headset before a pair of AR glasses appear.

The source Bloomberg spoke to says the glasses are, according to the source, an “architecture” which Bloomberg says means Apple is still looking at underlying technologies and so would be with us by 2023 at the very earliest.

In May 2022, Bloomberg reported that Apple’s board of directors were shown the headset, said now to be capable of both AR and VR, and that the company is now working on an operating system called realityOS.

If that’s left you feeling confused, you’re not alone – at this point, it’s anyone’s guess when Apple will be launching the headset.

Apple Glasses price

While, for a long time, the Apple headsets in the pipeline have been too remote for pricing details to be worth discussing, that’s changing.

With a reveal seemingly getting closer and closer, multiple reports in early 2023 surfaced pointing at a roughly $3,000 price tag for the first set of glasses Apple will release.

That’s a big number, but isn’t a surprise given the tech involved and how niche it will be at first.

Apple Glasses features

Here’s everything we’ve heard so far about Apple Glasses and what they’ll be able to do if they ever come to market…

Displays

According to the early 2021 Bloomberg source, the headset will use higher-resolution displays than those currently in use in rival headsets. The headset could also feature an 8K display for each eye (these rumours again resurfaced in a February report from The Information). It’s untethered from a computer or smartphone and should work with both VR and AR apps.

This headset can connect to a “dedicated box” over a high-speed, short-range wireless technology called 60GHz WiGig. It features a 5-nanometer Apple processor and resembles a PC tower.

AR stereo

9to5Mac said Apple is working on stereo AR in iOS that supports a face-mounted AR experience. It’s been in internal testing with two Apple devices (codenamed Luck and Franc) and a third-party device, called HoloKit, which is a cardboard AR headset kit. Stereo AR apps can reportedly work in “held mode” (normal AR) or a “worn mode” when used with an external device such as a headset.

According to the early 2021 Bloomberg source, the CPU in use is apparently more powerful than Apple’s M1 chips used in some of its newer Macs (now superseded by the M2 lineup). The CPU and GPU will be inside the headset rather than offloaded to another device (like a Mac), which is also the model Oculus has increasingly followed. And they will have a fan for cooling, too.

2022 rumours suggested that Apple might be using its U1 chip for its headset. This chip appeared in the Apple iPhone 11 and 12 and could play a role in the mixed reality headset. This could mean cross-support for ultra-wideband devices as well as all-important support for precise spatial awareness.

ARKit has also been updated in iOS 16 with support for 4K HDR video as well as advanced interior room scanning which will be an important feature of any AR/VR headset.

AR-only or AR/VR?

It sounds like there are two different projects at play here. Respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo expects the AR glasses to be pitched as an iPhone accessory – offloading computing, networking, etc, to the iPhone – like Nreal Air.

Other reports suggest the project could offer both support for both AR and VR apps and will support eye tracking as you’d expect. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says: “Apple’s eye tracking system includes a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitting end provides one or several different wavelengths of invisible light, and the receiving end detects the change of the invisible light reflected by the eyeball, and judges the eyeball movement based on the change.”

Haptic feedback

A patent spotted in February 2021 has indicated that Apple is also looking into how it can use haptic feedback as part of its headset. The patent is applied widely to all potential devices, but given that its main other options are iPhones, tablets and computers, it would make a lot more sense to see the potential system matched up with a headset.

It sounds like a mighty complicated idea, too, in classic Apple style. The idea is to have a motion sensor monitoring the momentum and force of the user’s movements in relation to virtual objects viewed presumably through the headset. This would be paired up with a worn haptic feedback system that could provide feedback according to how the virtual objects move.

Apple notes that the system might be too bulky to work, and it certainly sounds like an accessory more than a core part of its headset plans, but it’s an interesting potential avenue for the company to explore.

On the lenses

The source The Information spoke to said making the AR lenses is especially challenging because they are composed of multiple, extremely thin layers of different synthetic materials, each of which is susceptible to bubbles, scratches and other marks. To reduce defects, the lenses must be manufactured in dust-free zones known as clean rooms.

Apparently, the headset doesn’t have space for prescription glasses according to the early 2021 Bloomberg report – instead custom lenses can be inserted into the headset. Apple is also testing the built-in cameras for hand tracking and is also said to be working on a system to input text by ‘typing’ in the air.

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Apple Glasses design

According to the early 2021 Bloomberg source, the first headset will be a pro-level fabric-covered device. It was also weighty during initial testing, but apparently is now the same size as an Oculus Quest. The goal with the headset will be to get developers on board in time for the launch of consumer-friendly AR glasses.

More early 2021 details from The Information reveal extra details about the headset design of the mixed-reality device. There should be an interchangeable headband, much like the AirPods Max.

In March 2022 we got some mock-ups of what the headset might look like from LetsGoDigital, too, which give a good flavour of what you might be able to expect.

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Intelligent display design

According to a patent filing, it seems that Apple is working on an adaptive display for its AR headset that will account for the user’s surroundings and adapt to their eye as well. The goal here is twofold. Firstly to reduce the “dazzle and discomfort” that a user would otherwise experience when transitioning out of a virtual reality viewing experience. Secondly, to make the headset more comfortable to wear by making it easier on the eye, both during use and when you take it off too.

The proposed technology will not only measure the ambient light in the surrounding environment but also measure things like the “blink rate, pupil size, and eye openness” to adjust the headset brightness accordingly.

As well as making it more comfortable, the proposed tech will help to “… boost the perceived dynamic range of the display.” This should make the experience more satisfying, improve comfort and hopefully save battery too.

Has Apple ever spoken about Apple Glasses?

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said the technology does not exist to create AR glasses in a quality way. “But today I can tell you the technology itself doesn’t exist to do that in a quality way,” he explained. “The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face – there are huge challenges with that. The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it’s not there yet.”

Keep in mind, in 2016, he also said: “AR can be really great… We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We’re high on AR in the long run… I think AR is big and profound. This is one of those huge things that we’ll look back at and marvel at the start of it.”

Which AR/VR companies have Apple bought?

Not only has Apple hired AR/VR experts, but it’s also acquired companies that specialise in this area. In 2017, it purchased Vrvana, a company that developed a mixed-reality headset called Totem. Around that time, it also bought Akonia Holographics, a company that makes lenses for AR smart glasses. Apple also purchased Israeli-based 3D body sensing firm PrimeSense way back in 2013.

And in 2020, Apple bought NextVR, a company which gave sports and concerts a VR platform. The company had partnered with Fox Sports, Wimbledon and the NBA among others.

Other companies it’s purchased include Metaio, Faceshift, Emotient, Flyby Media, and RealFace.

Apple Glasses rumours: What’s happened so far?

24 January 2023: Apple’s Reality Pro headset sounds intense, and it’s coming this spring

Apple’s headset will reportedly have a $3,000 price tag attached.

9 June 2022: iOS 16 integrates U1 chip with ARKit amid rumors of Apple’s mixed reality headset

9to5Mac reports that Apple will build the U1 chip into its headset for a bunch of potential features.

13 April 2022: Apple’s AR headset might not arrive until 2023

It’s reported that the 2022 release date Apple was aiming for internally has slipped into 2023.

3 March 2022: Is this what the Apple AR headset will look like?

LetsGoDigital produces mock-ups of the headsets based on reports.

18 March 2021: Kuo: Apple’s Mixed Reality Headset to Feature Eye Tracking System, Iris Recognition a Possibility

Analyst Kuo reiterates that he too has heard that eye-tracking is on the menu for the headset.

4 February 2021: New Apple Mixed-Reality Headset Details: Swappable Headbands, Eye-Tracking

The Information reports that Apple’s headset will feature eye-tracking.

21 January 2021: Apple will introduce a niche VR headset before going mainstream with AR glasses

Apple is reported to be interested in first going for a niche market before it widens out its focus once acceptance grows.

5 January 2021: Apple Reportedly Moving Into ‘Second Phase’ of AR Glasses Development

MacRumors spreads the news that Apple is apparently moving forward into a further stage of its development, a progress marker.

14 May 2020: NextVR acquired by Apple

Apple makes another major VR acquisition, buying NextVR.

September 2019: ‘Apple Glasses’ explained and how iPhone-connected item trackers will work

9to5Mac has an expose reporting that the first headset from Apple will rely on an iPhone for much of its power.

April 2018: Apple’s working on a powerful, wireless headset for both AR, VR

CNet publishes a report dishing details of Apple’s early development progress on its headsets.

October 2017: Apple’s Tim Cook on iPhones, augmented reality, and how he plans to change your world

Tim Cook says that AR is a way off being viable for the public due to a range of challenges on the manufacturing side.

September 2016: Exclusive: Why Apple CEO Tim Cook Prefers Augmented Reality Over Virtual Reality

Tim Cook talks up the potential of AR in an interview, one of the first times Apple has spoken about the tech.

May 2015: Apple acquires augmented reality company Metaio

TechCrunch reports that Apple has made another acquisition that has ramifications in AR and VR.





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