Tim Cook has given plenty of on the record indication that he isn’t so bothered about VR despite it being a trend that is surging forward with gusto and shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon. It’s not that Cook doesn’t like VR, it’s just that he thinks AR – that’s Augmented Reality as opposed to Virtual Reality – is a much more compelling prospect.
What’s the difference? Well on a basic level Virtual Reality games, applications and experiences render an entire world, landscape, or other experience in front of the eyes of the user and with which they can interact. Augmented Reality is what some phones have been doing for a while and what Google tried to get right with Google Glass – you can still see the real world before you, but the device imposes virtual components over the top, some of which you may be able to interact with. A really simple example is rather than having a TV screen on your living room wall, a pair of AR glasses could render a TV screen that isn’t really there, streaming a program to it. However, the possibliites do extend quite considerably past this point into some pretty compelling ideas.
As of January 10, a post by respected tech expert Robert Scoble suggests that Apple is in cahoots with camera specialist Carl Zeiss, the firm which previously worked with Nokia on its phone cameras; allegedly Apple and Carl Zeiss are working on a pair of AR glasses. Scoble says he was given details by a Carl Zeiss insider, and he believes Apple will bring the product to market sometimes inside 2017.
Tim Cook has said he believes gaming and education will see a big boost from VR and that it is a very viable market, but of the AR market he thinks it “is the larger of the two, probably by far,” adding that the AR market will be “huge”. Certainly there is a lot of scope, looking at things like Microsoft’s HoloLens AR project, for AR to be a key component in the Internet of Things, connected homes, and integrated, immersive, household and workplace experiences, tools, and applications.
Previously there was a slight hint that maybe something is cooking in the Apple camp with regards to VR/AR hardware. Apple may be poised to finally join the VR/AR trend and produce its own headset, as word emerged that the firm has been granted a patent for a headset designed to hold the iPhone in front of your eyes.
That means, essentially, that Apple is following the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View route of a headset device designed to utilise a smartphone display for the VR/AR experience, rather than a device like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive which is dependent upon a computer. Considering that Apple’s own Mac computers are not particularly well regarded when it comes to gaming or similar, this makes a lot of sense for the firm to rely on its mobile devices.
As you may have noticed, the VR/AR trend has been on the rise fairly rapidly over the last year or so, with the Oculus Rift first gaining attention via Kickstarter, major device manufacturers caught wind of the upsurge in interest and naturally decided they wanted a piece of the pie. Facebook bought Oculus Rift, while HTC created the Vive, Samsung built the Gear VR, Sony has the PlayStation VR, and pretty much every other major tech firm has some kind of VR project on the go.
The USPTO has now granted Apple a patent, number 9,482,869, which describes a “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus For Retaining A Portable Electronic Device With Display”.
The depicted “portable electronic device with display” is clearly an iPhone, and it looks as though it connects to the headset via the Lightning port. Another image shows what appears to be a handheld remote, which looks a lot like an iPod – although it’s not expressly mentioned, feasibly this could also be a motion controller, similar to the one with the Google Daydream View, or the HTC Vive’s “ladle” controllers.
The headset also appears to feature built-in headphones, a set of lenses, a wheel for controlling focus, home and back buttons, a touchpad, and a proximity sensor. Details explain that once the phone is connected to the headset it will override the touchpad and button controls. The headset has its own processor, memory, sensors, and a chargeable battery housed underneath the lenses.
While all of this is interesting stuff, we do have to mention the caveat that always needs repeating when dealing with Apple patents; which is that Apple patents a LOT of stuff on a regular basis which never actually sees the light of day. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see that Apple is at least entertaining the idea of a headset device.