Apple has long been rumored to be working on a pair of augmented reality smart glasses. But the latest news suggests the headset is set to launch as soon as next year. And not only that, we now know some of the major features of the device.
Apple Glass: Brand Name
Apple’s incoming smart glasses will be called “Glass” (or Apple Glass). It’s a simple, name–elegant and accessible at the same time. So why name a headset “Glass”?
Apple Glass: Form Factor
Apple is naming its headset “Glass” because it is rumored to resemble a pair of modern-day spectacles. What’s cools is that means that this device won’t look like some kind of gaming headset rig and will instead look like something you actually want to wear in public.
Matter of fact, not only will Glass look like regular spectacles, you’ll be able to get the device fitted with prescription lenses. Yep, your next frames are going to be Apple-branded–and they’ll do so much more than your “dumb” spectacles.
Apple Glass: Mixed Reality
Apple Glass also isn’t going to be a VR-only device. Since you’ll be able to see through the lenses into the outside world, the device will support AR (augmented reality) features too. Given that the device supports VR and AR, that means it’s a “mixed reality” device.
Apple Glass: Interface
This is arguable the coolest thing about Apple Glass. It’s basically bringing “touchable holograms” from the realm of science fiction to real-life–at least, according to a patent Apple was granted in July 2020. What do we mean by “touchable holograms”? Check out the video of clips from the various Iron Man movies below…
Now in these clips, you see Tony Stark interacting with holograms projected in front of him. Apple’s glasses won’t project holograms that others can see, but it will allow for photorealistic interfaces to be viewed through the glasses themselves. In other words, these interfaces would appear to be projected in front of you just like they are projected in front of Tony Stark.
But how would you interact with these projected interfaces if they are, in actuality, only in the lenses you’re rearing on your face? That’s where Apple’s patent comes in. As the patent states:
The present disclosure is related to a method and device for detecting a touch between at least part of a first object and at least part of a second object, wherein the at least part of the first object has a different temperature than the at least part of the second object. The method includes providing at least one thermal image of a portion of the second object, determining in at least part of the at least one thermal image a pattern which is indicative of a particular value or range of temperature or a particular value or range of temperature change, and using the determined pattern for detecting a touch between the at least part of the first object and the at least part of the second object.
In short, the patent describes how Apple could use the difference in temperature when a user is pressing a device they are viewing through the Apple Glasses to tell when that user has pressed a virtual button. Sure, it’s not 100% Iron Man-level tech because you still need glasses to see the projections and other devices to interact with them, but its a HUGe stop forward over current AR technology today.
Apple Glass: Features
Besides the confirmation that Glass will be a mixed reality device, we don’t know what kind of apps the device will support (navigation apps are a sure thing, though). However, prototypes of Glass do feature a LiDAR sensor and wireless charging–because you don’t want to have to plug these things into a USB charger every night.
Prototypes also require to be paired with an iPhone, much like the first Apple Watch. This suggests the iPhone will do much of the heavy lifting and Glass will be primarily used as a display.
Apple Glass: Release Date
The latest rumors say Apple had planned to show off Glass at its annual September event. However, with the global pandemic raging, it’s now looking likely Apple won’t make a public unveiling until March 2021.
Apple Glass: Cost
Apple Glass is rumored to start at $499. Not a bad price at all.
Apple Glass: History
Way back in 2015 small rumors began appearing that suggested Apple had a very small team of people looking into a smart glasses device like Google’s now-defunct Google Glass. However, the rumors suggested the team was so small and the project so inconsequential that it was no more than an afterthought in Apple’s collective mind.
But over the course of the last several years, Apple began acquiring firms that deal in technology that could be used in virtual or augmented reality: Metaio, an augmented reality startup; real-time motion capture firm Faceshift; and expression analysis startup Emotient.
Of course, those firm’s tech could be put to use in non-AR or VR devices. It’s almost a given that some of the firm’s tech was used in the creation of Apple’s Face ID system and its Animoji glyphs.
But Tim Cook also hasn’t been shy saying how excited he is for the future of augmented reality and virtual reality devices. Speaking to Good Morning America in 2016, the Apple CEO said:
“There’s virtual reality and there’s augmented reality — both of these are incredibly interesting. But my own view is that augmented reality is the larger of the two, probably by far, because this gives the capability for both of us to sit and be very present, talking to each other, but also have other things — visually — for both of us to see. Maybe it’s something we’re talking about, maybe it’s someone else here who’s not here present but who can be made to appear to be present.”
Then a few years ago, we finally got some news that Apple was actively deep into the development of a combined AR/VR headset. The headset was reportedly codenamed T288, according to CNET.
It was said to reportedly sport a massive 8K display for EACH eye, giving it unparalleled clarity. Even more astonishing, Apple’s AR/VR headset was rumored to work independently of other devices. Most current high-end AR/VR headsets need to be tether to a gaming system or a PC.
That’s because current AR/VR headsets can’t pack the hardware or graphics processing power in the headset itself, nor can they eek out enough battery life without being connected to a constant power source.
According to rumors, Apple’s AR/VR headset surmounted all these obstacles. To be clear, Apple’s AR/VR headset would need to communicate with a separate computer–but it won’t need to be physically tethered to the device, said CNET:
“The future of VR is expected to be cordless devices — and Apple wants to bring its trademark simplicity to the setup. The box would use a wireless technology called 60GHz WiGig, the person familiar with Apple’s plans said. A second-generation version, called 802.11ay, would boost speeds and range and make the technology more attractive for high-end VR headsets that aren’t tethered to computers. A final version of WiGig 2.0 likely won’t arrive until 2019.”
What’s more, is users will not need to install special cameras in their room to tell the headset where they are in location to it and surrounding objects–Apple’s headset will have all this tech built into it.
Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.