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Editorial: Apple is not cancelling its AR Glasses

Is this really how Apple thinks we'll all use AR? Holding up an iPad to take a photo is bad enough.

It makes for a great headline, but it doesn't look like Apple has abandoned its development of AR glasses if for no other reason that because it has not cancelled its augmented reality work.

It's a measure of how much interest there is in this, though, that a headline behind the Digitimes paywall that claims Apple is cancelling its Apple AR Glasses, has been getting a huge amount of attention.

However, it's a measure of how reliable Digitimes has been before that no one has bothered to pay to read the full story.

That does include us. It should also include you. Nothing to see there, move along, and it would cost you $415 to subscribe to find out today.

Nonetheless, the clickbait headline is strong, albeit oddly worded. "Apple reportedly having terminated AR glasses development," it says.

And this is an idea that is getting more traction than it should. That's partly because of the level of interest we all have in Apple's augmented reality development and it's partly because it is being argued that this would be Apple's second big hardware cancellation after AirPower.

It's mostly, though, because of the timing.

Jony Ive announces he's leaving Apple, and a moment later, one of its big design projects is reported to be cancelled. Just as everyone is talking about Ive and thinking about the future of design at Apple, here's a whopper of a story about it. But, we choose the word 'whopper' carefully.

Ive may have just announced his departure, but it's not as if he decided over orange juice that morning and sent a resignation memoji to Tim Cook before clearing out his desk.

Whether you believe the Wall Street Journal account of his departure or not, his leaving has unquestionably be in progress for some time. Then whether AirPower was really cancelled quite quickly or not, Apple's AR Glasses are different.

The AR Glasses are a long term project, and they are part of the entire AR drive that Apple has been more open than nearly everything else it has ever worked on. They're not some standalone product like an iPod sock, they are an integral part of whatever AR ecosystem Apple is working on.

We don't really know all that much more about Apple's overall AR plans than we do about its Project Titan car, but it certainly seems as if we do.

Demo of AR at WWDC 2019
Demo of AR at WWDC 2019

For Tim Cook talks up AR">Tim Cook talks up AR whenever he can. Patents keep getting filed and filed, too. Apple hires people to work on it. And ARKit keeps getting remarkable updates that we and developers are actually seeing.

We're also seeing the application of AR in unexpected areas such as the Facetime Attention Correction.

So AR is happening, and it's happening now.

There is no question that Apple is pursuing AR and that it isn't giving up on it. There's also no question but that it will involve hardware beyond the iPhone. Apple makes hardware. And then it makes the software that runs on it.

No doubt, future iPhones and iPads will include more AR features, but there's got to be a limit to that. There's got to be a physical limit to how much use we can get out of AR if we have to hold a slab of glass up in the air all the time.

Those slabs could do the processing work, leaving the glasses to be lighter and less obtrusive than Google's previous plans.

Whatever way Apple does this, AR is coming and AR Glasses are coming with it.

It's true, though, that Apple always iterates its way toward a design. The design group famously likes to make physical objects instead of relying solely on CAD/CAM drawings. The design group's own section of Apple Park includes milling machines that are better than some factories own.

And there's no Apple hardware product you can name that wasn't preceded by many test designs that got thrown away.

Detail from an Apple patent regarding headsets
Detail from an Apple patent regarding headsets

If you tell us that one design of AR Glasses just got cancelled, we'd believe you, and we wouldn't even shrug. But, if you tell us that it's all over, that there is no more development on AR Glasses, well, that's harder to swallow. Maybe Apple has dropped development because it's finished. Maybe Apple has dropped one particular form of the glasses.

Or maybe someone at Apple who has a pair of AR glasses has just dropped them and that's all this is about.

Don't point to AirPower as an example of Apple ditching hardware, either. That is genuinely different because Apple had demoed that publicly, it had even produced the packaging for it, and we had seen it work, albeit in a controlled demo.

The AirPower was a true last-minute cancellation. And, it was a product that DigiTimes claimed was in mass production and was imminently shipping a week and a half before Apple dropped the axe.

Apple has demoed no AR glasses, it has produced no materials, it has released nothing about them at all. We don't know if Apple will do AR glasses well, but we know they're doing them.

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