Apple has long been rumored to be secretly working on a standalone augmented reality device. This week, those rumors were reignited by new reports.
All signs point toward Apple ramping up its push into the AR sphere. Here’s what we know about the device that could make that happen.
Reportedly, Apple is looking to introduce a “breakthrough product” that could eventually succeed the iPhone as its flagship device, according to a Bloomberg report on Wednesday.
Apple’s product would have its own display, processor and operating system via a “system-on-a-package” component similar to the one in the Apple Watch. In other words, it would be a standalone device — and wouldn’t rely on a smartphone to power it, like most headsets currently on the market.
Of particular note here is the distinction between virtual and augmented reality. While virtual reality (VR) headsets place the user in a thoroughly digital world, augmented reality (AR) would overlay digital information onto the real one.
Corroborating Bloomberg’s information, a Nikkei report published yesterday suggested that Apple may have already tapped its metal casing supplier, Catcher Technology, to help it build out AR glasses or headset.
In his interview with Nikkei, Catcher CEO Allen Horng said that his company is currently working on an AR device, but stopped short of specifically naming Apple. Still, with Catcher’s background as a supplier of metal casing and aluminum frames for Cupertino, the market is already speculating that the device is indeed an upcoming Apple product.
But while we may have known of Apple’s AR ambitions for quite a while, today’s Bloomberg report unearths an interesting piece of information: a new operating system.
The operating system is known internally at Cupertino as “rOS” (for reality operating system). According to Bloomberg, it’s based on iOS and will be used to power Apple’s upcoming AR headset.
It may have a name, but it’s far from final. Apple engineers are still exploring how users will interact with the headset, and are investigating everything from touch panels to hand gestures to voice-activation. Apple is already prototyping a range of applications, from AR-based maps and texting apps to 360-degree video playback. It may also have its own version of the App Store.
Since Apple doesn’t have a fully operational prototype yet, it’s using various headsets like the HTC Vive and an Oculus Gear VR for its testing purposes.
According to Jeff Pu of Taipei-based Yuanta Investing Consulting, Apple’s AR glasses could hit the market as early as 2019. Bloomberg’s report, too, suggests that the technology could be ready by then, but adds that it’s more likely to reach consumers in 2020.
Apple’s AR device ambitions are well-known, and range from Tim Cook’s own comments on the matter to a variety of patent filings and supply chain reports. This week’s new information suggests that Apple is working aggressively at getting the technology polished.
Despite that, there’s still no clear indication of when we’ll see iGlass (or whatever Apple finally dubs the device). At the very least, we know the product exists and that we’ll likely be seeing more of it in the coming years.