By now there’s absolutely no doubt that Apple plans to release an augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) headset. Not only have we heard more than enough rumours over the past few years, including a very solid one last fall that basically came directly out of Apple itself, but the company has also been laying its augmented reality frameworks through ARKit for at least the past three years.
In fact, Apple’s addition of a LiDAR Scanner to the new 2020 iPad Pro is ultimately another big peek into the sort of things the company is preparing do with its AR glasses, however despite the many rumours that Apple is working on “something,” it’s still been difficult to pin down exactly what they will actually do; Apple has patented dozens of different technologies that have led to speculation about helping the visually impaired, incorporating retinal hologram projectors, ultrasonic sensing, and more, and then of course there’s the question of whether the device will be primarily targeted at gamers.
There’s actually a fair bit of evidence to support this last point, including not only Apple’s actual push into gaming via its Apple Arcade service, where it’s invested at least $500 million to push the development of leading-edge games, but also the hiring of leading virtual reality engineers that include one of the creators of the original Xbox, along with acquisitions of gaming and VR companies, and a rumoured partnership with Valve to “develop AR head-mounted display devices.”
Now MacRumors has discovered new code in iOS 14 that seemingly confirms that Apple is working on an actual gaming headset, and not just something akin to Google Glass.
A VR Game Controller?
From a photo hidden within a leaked build of iOS 14 that has been making the rounds lately, it would appear that Apple already has a working prototype for an AR/VR controller that follows a design similar to the one for the 2018 HTC Vive Focus headset. A report from late 2017 suggested that Apple was previously using headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Gear VR for testing purposes, but this particular controller appears to be something designed specifically by Apple.
It seems that this controller, which from its appearance is clearly just a prototype for internal testing right now, is actively being used by Apple to develop and try out new augmented reality gaming experiences. One of these, discovered by MacRumors, is a “crosswalk bowling game” that lets engineers roll a virtual bowling ball across the street while waiting for a light to change.
In fact, what’s even more interesting is that the game seems to be triggered based on a specific location — an intersection near a secondary Apple office, which may have just revealed the location of Apple’s secretive AR/VR headset project.
This crosswalk bowling game can only be triggered at an intersection near an Apple office known as “Mathilda 3” at 555 N Mathilda Ave in Sunnyvale, California.MacRumors
This does sort of make us wonder how many people have spotted Apple engineers behaving oddly while standing on the corner of that particular intersection as they launched imaginary bowling balls to knock down pins that only they could see.
More Than Gaming
That said, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Apple’s AR Glasses are going to be much more than just a gaming headset. In fact, it seems very likely that much like the experiences that ARKit already powers on the iPad and iPhone, games will simply be one aspect of a much more far-reaching AR experience.
For example, other code recently found in the leaked iOS 14 build has identified a new app code-named “Gobi” that will allow users to scan and identify objects in the real world, allowing apps to do things like displaying detailed information when looking at products on store shelves. In fact, the code suggests that Apple is already planning to implement the feature in its own stores and has also partnered with Starbucks for the initial rollout as well. Assuming Apple isn’t holding this feature back for the actual AR glasses, it could arrive on the iPhone and iPad as soon as this fall when iOS 14 is expected to be released.
When are Apple’s AR Glasses Coming?
The most reliable information on Apple’s plans comes from a leak within Apple itself, when the company had an all-hands meeting back in November to present its plans to a large group of Apple staff.
The timeline given in that meeting was that Apple was hoping to release an AR headset by 2022, with AR glasses to follow in 2023. However, a new report this week from DigiTimes supports an earlier analysis by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman suggesting that it could all happen much sooner, with the headset coming next year, and the glasses arriving in 2022.
The fact that code for the new augmented reality hardware was already found in iOS 13 last year suggests that Apple’s timeline for this one is going to be as aggressive as possible, since it otherwise seems odd for the company to already be including code in public-facing iOS builds for a product that isn’t otherwise expected to arrive until iOS 15 lands.