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It’s been a little while since we’ve heard much about Apple’s AR/VR glasses and headset projects, which probably isn’t all that surprising with the iPhone 12 dominating the playing field, but of course that doesn’t mean that Apple hasn’t still been quietly working away on these other initiatives in the background.
Although we heard rumours back in the spring that Apple Glass could be unveiled as soon as this fall, we were fairly skeptical then, particularly as those same rumours offered up some especially dubious ideas, and all of the leakers who suggested a late 2020 release have now become dead quiet about the project, focusing instead on more near-term things like AirTags, AirPods Studio, and new Apple Silicon MacBooks, all of which really do have a much higher probability of showing up in the coming weeks.
Perhaps the biggest sign, however, that Apple is still at work on a longer-term product was the news over the summer that Apple Glass lenses had entered trial production, a process that involves merely prototyping and testing new materials to make sure that they can be produced at scale. As exciting as this report may have sounded on the surface, “trial production” is still only one step on a much longer road, especially for an entirely new product design, and it’s also important to keep in mind that the lenses are only one component of what is undoubtedly going to be a fairly complex product.
In fact, supply chain sources suggested at the time that this step could still put the lenses themselves at least one to two years away from mass production.
Sony’s ‘Cutting-Edge’ OLED Technology
This week, however, we gained a bit more insight into exactly what these lenses could look like and what components Apple may be using, thanks to a report from Japanese publication Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, shared by Mac Otakara and spotted by MacRumors.
According to the report, which was also corroborated by display industry analyst Ross Young, Apple is expected to get the micro-display technology for its lenses from Sony, which will supply “cutting-edge” OLED displays with a pixel density of greater than 3,000 ppi (by comparison, the pixel density of the Retina Displays on the various iPhone 12 models come in between 458 and 476 ppi).
Young also adds that these Micro OLED displays will have very high resolution and “excellent motion performance,” although he emphasizes that these are being designed expressly for augmented reality, not virtual reality applications, using projection optics inside the glasses.
Young suggests that the displays would be 0.5 inches diagonally, with a 1,280 x 960 resolution, which appears to be consistent with Sony’s ECX337A, which has a maximum brightness of 1,000 nits, a contrast ratio of 100,000:1, and a response rate of 0.01 ms or less.
As MacRumors notes, Sony’s OLED microdisplays feature an ultra-fast response rate, extremely high contrast ratios, a wide color gamut, high luminance, and low reflectance. Basically not only everything you’d expect from an OLED display, but also display technology that’s optimally suited for glasses.
When Will Apple Glass Be Released?
At this point, any specifics on when Apple could even unveil its wearable AR products remain anybody’s guess. Most reliable reports suggest that we won’t even see the first product — expected to be an AR headset rather than a pair of glasses — until late 2021 or early 2022, with the actual “Apple Glass” expected to follow sometime in 2023.
While it seems very possible that Apple could choose to debut this product ahead of its actual release, especially since it would want developers to be ready, the suggestion that it would happen this fall seems too soon by an order of magnitude. Further, thanks to the AirPower debacle, Apple is almost certainly even more gun shy about announcing something before it’s absolutely certain it will be ready to deliver on it. So while this doesn’t rule out a pre-announcement, it does suggest that it’s going to come much closer to when Apple knows when it will actually have a shipping product.