Innovation? Apple was developing Google Glass-like prototypes in 2006

Apple [AAPL] has been developing its own Google Glass systems since 2006, and only took focus off of the project in order to develop the iPhone, a report claims.


Through a Glass darkly

It is interesting to note that Google's Eric Schmidt joined Apple's board (in 2006) when the iPhone maker was still working on video glasses. It is unknown if these Apple Glasses prototypes were known to Schmidt.

A historical note: Schmidt later quit Apple when Android made its debut as a direct competitor for Apple's iOS. Apple's dying CEO, Steve Jobs, of course, then went on the record to say his company would "destroy Android".

Returning to Apple Glass: The Daily Telegraph reports Apple to have been working on a project that sounds similar to Google Glass since 2006, citing a US patent and a Fast Company interview with iPod inventor, Nest's Tony Fadell. (I first heard whispers of Apple's work in this area in 2008).

Apple's project explored how to use video glasses to create immersive entertainment experiences, "which feel like you're sitting in a theatre," said Fadell.

The patent application describes the system thus:

"Methods and apparatus, including computer program products, implementing and using techniques for projecting a source image in a head-mounted display apparatus for a user. A first display projects an image viewable by a first eye of the user."

What it ships

Apple often says it's as proud of the things it doesn't ship as those it does, and its iGlasses project was put aside in favour of further development on the iPod, namely the iPhone.

"We had such success with the things we were already doing that we didn't have time to do anything else," Fadell said.

Fadell's words are supported by a Research and Markets statement dating from 2008, in which the analysts wrote:

"Sony and Apple are developing the next generation personal viewer, the navigation/video sunglasses. These products will offer navigation features in full see-through mode as well as video viewing with a clip-on to block the background. We expect that clip-ons will be available to provide both see-periphery views of the environment, as well as full blocking of the environment to enable video immersion when desired. This new versatile product generation will further accelerate acceptance and sales of personal viewers."

Fadell tells Fast Company that he built a "bunch" of Glass prototypes while the company was actively researching the project.

He also explained that Apple's vision for these devices was focused on their use as entertainment systems: that's quite different from Google's focus on geeks and some enterprise (principally medical) solutions.

Innovation, much?

The author of today's report observes that Apple's focus on consumer use of such devices may suggest that the purported iWatch may not be a smartphone replacement and will instead be little more than a health tracker and music player.

Apple Glass are not the only technological innovation developed by Apple that doesn't make the light of day, FastCodeDesign explains:

"The idea that Apple is behind Google when it comes to wearable computers may simply be wrong. As I talked to former employees for Fast Company’s oral history on Apple design, I was told repeatedly that Jonathan Ive’s industrial design lab at 1 Infinity Loop is chock full of new products, but that unlike Google, which will happily release unfinished or not-entirely-thought-through products as “beta” releases, the company is too disciplined to let the public see them."

When it comes to declaring which firm might be the most innovative, many Apple fans will see news that their favorite corporation was working on Glass-like products seven years ago as noteworthy. Followers of that other US corporation, Google, will have their own opinion. Those who pursue neither firm will note the delay between Apple's inception of the later shelved project and Google's commencement of work on the project. It's certainly historically quite interesting.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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