The next wearable from Apple may be a set of augmented reality glasses called "Apple Glass." One day soon, users will interact with information and digital objects via transparent glass worn over their eyes. AR has been a staple talking point for Apple in recent years, and it all leads up to this.
● Rumored 2021 launch
● Plastic or metal frames
● Will display information on both lenses
● iPhone-dependent for data
● No cameras, just LiDAR
● Aims to be fashionable, not "geeky"
● Gesture controls expected
● UI called Starboard
● Prescription lenses available
● Concept image source: Angelo Libero Designs
● May cost $499
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If you were to believe science fiction, the future of wearables has always been augmented reality. Apple could very well be close to achieving that future with a wearable heads-up-display called "Apple Glass."
"Apple Glass" Rumored Features
There have been rumors about wearable AR glasses for years, but very few useful tidbits leaked until 2020. Patent applications have been the best source of information yet, and show some promising features for an Apple headset.
The following features are a combination of rumors, patents, and leaks that represent our best look at what "Apple Glass" might be.
There haven't been leaked photos of the actual design, but it is rumored that Apple wants these glasses to look fashionable and approachable. Apple Watch is a good place to look for how Apple handles wearable design— subtle, but still obviously a piece of tech.
Much of what has been shown in patents look like safety glasses, though these are prototype drawings meant to illustrate the patent and not the product. Ultimately "Apple Glass" could look like an average pair of glasses, but there is no way of knowing until something more official leaks out.
Designing a tech product that users will want to wear on their face is no simple task. Style, color, and even lens shape will make or break most purchasing decisions, and Apple is a company known for a one-size-fits-all approach to many of its products.
Jon Prosser has seen the early prototypes of the glasses and calls them "sleek," although they are currently plastic. He says that they should release sometime in 2021, which contradicts long-time analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who said the glasses will launch no sooner than 2022.
A new rumor came from Prosser on May 21, when he said there would be a "heritage edition" set of glasses designed to look like the ones worn by Steve Jobs. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman felt the need to step in and say that all rumors up to that point were false.
Gurman asserts that there are two distinct devices, as reported by AppleInsider over the years, one is the purported glasses, and the other a VR headset. Prosser agrees there are two devices, but does not agree with Gurman's lengthy release timeline of 2023 for the glasses.
Sony may be supplying half-inch Micro OLED displays for the glasses at 1280x960 resolution. The order for the displays is expected to be fulfilled by the first half of 2022 according to sources.
A patent revealed late in 2020 points to an Apple VR or AR headset automatically adjusting the lenses placed in front of the user's eyes by using fluids to deform the shape of the lens to improve the user's eyesight. The patent suggests a series of lens components around a central fluid chamber that can be inflated and emptied by a connected pump and reservoir.
Processing Capabilities and Battery Life
Wireless signals, smart displays, microphones, powerful processors, and LiDAR add up to a device in need of a big battery. If Apple wants a device that everyone wants to wear, it not only has to look good, it has to perform. A massive battery and hot processor just won't cut it, so Apple will have to find a balance.
One aspect Apple can cut back on is processing power. As with the first-generation Apple Watch, the smart glasses could rely upon the iPhone for all processing needs, and act only as a display for that information.
By relaying information from the phone to the glasses, Apple will drastically cut down on local processing and need only worry about powering the display and sensors. Their rumored release date is in late 2021 or early 2022, so the technology allowing a slim and light pair of "Apple Glass" could mature by then.
One patent filed by Apple shows a series of base stations and IR tracking devices that could be used to process data and transfer information to "Apple Glass" or a VR headset. These tracking tools being offloaded to a dedicated base station would allow better tracking and less battery usage for the wearable. Think of a museum being able to follow a user around and show relevant data in the glasses with the base stations doing all the work.
Jony Ive once stated that a product can be in development for years, waiting for the technology to catch up with the idea. Apple is likely to take the same approach here, developing the AR glasses into different iterations internally while the technology is allowed to mature.
Apple's AirPods are a good example of a super compact device with good battery life. Even as small as the AirPods Pro are, they last for several hours with ANC on. If the prototype models are "sleek" like Prosser said, then Apple may have already solved their design problems surrounding battery life.
The glasses will need to serve the customer as a piece of tech and a piece of fashion, but will also need to serve a third function for many– work as actual glasses. It is expected that Apple will offer an option to order a prescription lens, but a patent describes another option. The lens themselves could adjust for the user wearing them.
Privacy and "Apple Glass"
Apple does not plan on including a camera in "Apple Glass" as the privacy and social implications alone would be insurmountable. According to Jon Prosser, Apple will only have sensors like LiDAR on the frame, which allows for environmental awareness and gestures without encroaching on others' privacy.
Apple tends to sell products with a lot of overlap, but the iPhone has always been the Apple camera, and that isn't likely to change. Unlike Google Glass, which seemed to want to replace the smartphone entirely, Apple's product will augment the iPhone experience.
Another expectation is that only the wearer will be able to view the content on the glasses so that a random passerby cannot peek into your business.
Apple has also looked into using "Apple Glass" for authentication. Rather than utilizing the built-in biometrics on your iPhone, the headset could detect if the wearer is looking at the device and unlock it immediately. The feature would only work after authenticating the wearer when putting on the glasses for the first time, much like Apple Watch.
Starboard User Interface
The iPhone has Springboard, the set of icons that act as your home screen. Apple's glasses have "Starboard." No interface elements have leaked or even been described, but it is assumed that Apple will adapt its iconography and UI for an AR interface.
Code surrounding the testing of such a UI was found in the iOS 13 Release Candidate. STARTester code and references to a device that could be "worn or held" were found in a readme file. Not much came from this, however, but does corroborate the rumored "Starboard" UI name.
The LiDAR sensor will allow for gesture control without the need for a controller or marker. However, some patents have suggested that Apple might be making a controller for more interactive experiences, like games.
As the first generation, expect most experiences to be passive. Look to Google Glass for this one; expect to see incoming iMessages, directions overlaid in real life, and highlighted points of interest.
While there won't be a camera to guide these experiences, LiDAR plus geolocation, compass direction, head tilt, eye tracking, and other sensors would go a long way in ensuring accuracy when displaying AR objects.
The iPhone and Apple Watch could act as anchors for AR interactions as well. Users looking through their AR glasses would be the only ones able to see what is being displayed, which would give them greater privacy.
AR features in iOS 14 show potential for "Apple Glass"
Apple held its annual developer conference in June and announced updates to all of its platforms as expected. Every year new APIs and hardware show promise at what we can expect for future products and this year gave us our best look yet at what Apple wants for "Apple Glass" software.
Location anchors will let developers and users attach augmented reality objects to certain locations in the real world. Wearing an AR headset or set of AR glasses while walking around town would let you see these objects without further interaction. On-device machine learning will be able to precisely anchor objects by using known map data and building shapes.
The new Depth API was created to take advantage of the LiDAR system on fourth-generation iPad Pros which could be included on "Apple Glass." Using the depth data captured and specific anchor points, a user can create a 3D map of a location in seconds. This feature will allow more immersive AR experiences and give the application a better understanding of the environment for object placement and occlusion.
Face and hand tracking have also been added in ARKit 4, which will allow for more advanced AR games and filters that utilize body tracking. This could be used to translate sign language live or attach AR objects to a person for a game like laser tag.
Apple announced the rumored App Clips and it aims to ease the friction of using some commerce apps out in the world.
With iOS 14, users can tap an NFC sticker, click a link, or scan a special QR code to access a "Clip." These App Clips are lightweight portions of an app, required to be less than 10MB, and will show up as a floating card on your device. From there, you can use Sign-in with Apple and Apple pay to complete a transaction in moments, all without downloading an app.
The specialized QR codes are the most notable here, as Apple could be scattering these around the world for use with App Clips on the iPhone now only to have them work with "Apple Glass" in the future. The premise would be the same in AR—walk up to a QR code and see an AR object you can interact with to purchase without downloading an entire app.
HomeKit Secure Video Face Recognition
HomeKit Secure Video, which was added to iOS in 2019, offers some smart features for users, such as recognizing objects that appear in videos for easier searching through footage. In iOS 14, the security feature will gain a face classification function, allowing it to identify individual people when they approach the camera.
Facial recognition data in the Photos app is used to make this function work, and Apple is applying it to people being recorded in real-time. While "Apple Glass" is not expected to have a camera, it will have LiDAR and other sensors that could create enough data to determine who a person is.
One of the earliest features users desired of an AR headset is instant face recognition to remind them of names or important information. This has wide-ranging privacy issues on its own, but if the data set is limited to what a user has on their iPhone, it is much more safe and useful.
The new Translate app on iOS 14 will allow Siri to translate conversations in real-time. The app intelligently understands what language the speaker is using and translates it on the fly.
As Siri gets better at language recognition and live translation, a future feature of "Apple Glass" could easily be live subtitles for conversations in foreign languages.
Apple announced a few special updates to their AirPods and AirPods Pro line, more specifically devices with an H1 chipset. In a future firmware update, these devices will gain the ability to play audio to simulate a 3D environment.
Using on-device sensors, the AirPods will be able to determine head tilt and angle to change how audio is being delivered to the user. Future AR games could create 3D environments around the user in the real world where special audio could let the player determine an object's location. For example, Pokemon Go could let a user find a Pokemon by listening for where it is in 3D space.
These advancements in how machine learning can determine the sound direction for the head position will be crucial for a device like "Apple Glass."
"Apple Glass" Price and Release
The biggest leak about Apple's potential wearable came on May 18, 2020. Jon Prosser said that the "Apple Glass" would be $499 plus the cost of prescription lenses. It is likely those lenses will need to be custom made as well, so depending on insurance, customers could easily spend $1500 on the entire device.
Ming-Chi Kuo says that "Apple Glass" will be released after an Apple VR headset. The VR headset is due sometime in 2022 with the glasses coming a year after that or more. Kuo also stated Apple will release contact lenses with AR capabilities sometime in 2030 or later.