Apple appears to have openly leaked its work on an augmented reality headset in code strings found in beta versions of iOS 13 and Xcode.
The code strings suggest that Apple is still actively developing an AR headset. And their inclusion in iOS 13 hints that the company may have planned on unveiling the device at yesterday’s event but canceled at the last minute.
Developer Steve Troughton-Smith and 9to5Mac’s Guilherme Rambo discovered a number of references to previous AR-related rumors in the Golden Master versions of both iOS 13 and Xcode 11. Specifically, those references were spotted in an ARDisplayDevice framework in the GMs.
That includes codenamed devices such as Franc, Luck and Garta, which were previously spotted in iOS 13 code earlier this month. Importantly, the code also hinted at a system interface called StarBoard — presumably a reference to “SpringBoard,” Apple’s iOS Home screen app.
And, as Troughton-Smith noted in a tweet yesterday, iOS 13 now contains pretty blatant references to StarBoard frameworks.
That’s not all. The developer also discovered references to a gamepad controller meant to be used with “stereo AR apps.” That, of course, hints at an AR headset connection.
The iOS 13 GM also contains a readme file describing a method to run Stereo AR apps on an iPhone when a head-mounted device isn’t available. This “StarTester” mode seems to allow testing of AR headset apps on an iOS device.
It also specifically mentions something called an Apple “HME” headset. Testers are apparently able to switch apps between “worn mode” and “held mode.”
At this point, it’s still not clear whether the device would need an iPhone to work, or if it could operate independently of an internet-connected handset.
What This Suggests
As mentioned earlier, the code strings essentially confirm that Apple is still actively working on some type of worn augmented reality device. That’s despite a rumor to the contrary published earlier this year.
But the fact that this code shows up in iOS 13 and Xcode 11 suggests something else. For a company with an infamous secrecy culture, there are very few reasons why Apple would blatantly leave this kind of evidence in its software.
There are a couple of possibilities. For one, Apple may have been planning on announcing some type of head-mounted AR device at its By Innovation Only event this week.
If that was the case, it means that Apple scrapped the idea at the last minute. Some observant Apple watchers even noticed that CEO Tim Cook appeared somewhat awkward and uncomfortable at the end of the keynote — exactly when a “one more thing” announcement would have taken place.
Apple could also have leaked these code strings intentionally to drum up anticipation for an AR device in the blogosphere. That would be unprecedented for the company, but it would be a pretty clever marketing trick.
In any case, we now know for a fact that Apple is still working on a first-party AR device. And based on the timing of the revelation, it seems like the device could debut sooner than later.