Everyone knows that Apple is heavily invested in Augmented Reality. Just as with the Apple Watch, Tim Cook has telegraphed Apple’s intentions with plenty of comments about their “interest.” Add in Apple’s ARKit, which is the perfect preparatory test bed to get developers working on AR software ahead of a hardware release, the money Apple is spending on R&D these days, and the AR-focused hires we know Apple has been making, and you have all the proof you need that Apple is working on getting into AR hardware early.
While Apple seems poised to be one of the first to get a consumer-oriented AR hardware product to market, such a device wasn’t expected to arrive until late 2020 at the earliest. There are still so many concerns and roadblocks that are in the way of a product like this today. You have battery life and miniaturization. You have the development of dedicated silicon to handle the specialized tasks required. As good as Apple is in this department, this is still a difficult task. You also have the lenses that need to be able to handle the data display properly.
Last but not least, you also have the issue of style. All you have to do is look back at the negative reaction that Google Glass generated after release for proof that this really does matter. They just looked far to cyborg-like for the average consumer to stomach. It’s one thing to be criticized, but this was of those situations where the negative press gained a critical mass and became a third rail for Google.
This was an impossible situation for Google a few years ago with a product that was frankly just way-too-early for the public. However, it will still be a challenge for Apple and others today. Whenever they make a move, you can bet it will be with a design that they know will work for consumers. Look no further than the Apple Watch for proof that they can deliver a winning design in a still-emerging product category.
Now that I’ve gone over all the reasons that Apple’s AR glasses shouldn’t be coming for a year or more, there is a report out from Apple prognosticator extraordinaire Ming-Chi Kuo that says otherwise. In an article from the Economic Daily News (via Google Translate), he says that Apple may have their first pair of AR glasses in production late this year with a release slated for early next year. That is definitely ahead of their expected schedule.
One of the reasons that Apple may be able to make a more aggressive schedule work is by taking the Apple Watch route out of the gate. Rather than being a stand-alone product, Kuo predicts that Apple will make their first AR glasses an accessory that is tied to the iPhone for Internet access and most processing tasks. While this could limit sales out of the gate, it is also a way around some of the limitations I listed above.
Considering how powerful the iPhone has become in terms of raw processing power, this looks like a very smart move on Apple’s part. In fact, thanks to the Apple Watch, Apple already has plenty of experience in how to make a wireless link between two devices in close proximity work. While this was initially one of the biggest weaknesses of the Watch, Apple has developed it into a strength over the last four years. That platform is now fast and data transmission and Internet access seamless and Apple’s AR glasses will benefit from all the work that went into these improvements.
Staying with the Watch parallels, Apple has also proven that they will gradually implement a greater level of autonomy to these kinds of devices. The Watch got its own GPS in the Series 2 and a cellular radio in the Series 3. It can now stream music directly, place calls independently, provide its own mapping info and play podcasts on its own. Eventually, I believe a fully stand-alone version of the Watch will be available. There is no reason to think that Apple won’t do the same with their coming AR glasses
While I haven’t been a big ARKit user to this point, I am definitely interested to see how good Apple’s AR glasses will be. I wear prescription glasses every day, so I will waiting to hear whether they will make a version that works with them in year one. I hope so, because just like the Watch and the AirPods, I am all about Apple wearable products. They have proven that they can deliver the goods, even in the first generation of an emerging product category.
Unlike foldable phones, we now have a report that Apple isn’t just working on a product, but actually nearing production and release. After Ming-Chi Kuo’s news, expect the tech press to start paying a lot more attention to news and rumors about AR glasses. If Apple really is gearing up to start production within the year, you can bet that the rumor mill will pick up steam very soon.