Apple’s AR lenses purchase also sees future mobile storage

There’s more to Apple’s Akonia Holographics purchase than glasses. You see, Apple now owns technologies it needs for future mobile storage.

Apple, Akonia, AR glasses, iOS, Mac, Tim Cook
Angelos Michalopoulos (CC0)

Apple’s got the world looking for glasses when it should be thinking about the broader consequences of the company's purchase of Akonia Holographics — one being that is is a huge step forward in terms of storage.

Even bigger data

April reports claimed Apple to be developing AR/VR glasses equipped with 8K resolution per eye.

Think of the storage demands of feeding an experience in such high resolution.

Meeting such storage needs was also part of Akonia Holographics' original purpose — and it made it a very long way down this road.

Just look at this Tweet from the company account from April 2015 when it demonstrated a holographic storage solution capable of carrying 25Tbit of data on a device just 135 x 132.5 x 30mm in size. That storage science advance was revealed just a month after the company was granted a patent for recording to holographic storage media — and was touted at the time as being of huge use for handling big data.

The company has been busy since then. Its website claims it has “advanced holographic media performance by more than a factor of six over the last two years, enabling new world record bit density demonstrations.”

One day the world will need 64TB iPhones.

Through the looking glasses

Apple isn’t just acquiring powerful storage. It is also picking up a company that has now invented completely transparent lenses for use in AR glasses, called “HoloMirror.”

Akonia Holographics has over 200 patents related to holographic systems, and its display technology allows for “thin, transparent smart glass lenses that display vibrant, full-color, wide field-of-view images.”

That’s really important in part because no one wants to wear clothing that makes them look ridiculous (hello, Google Glass and Magic Leap), and also because glasses must also help you see in the real world, not just in virtual space.

There’s little point augmenting someone’s reality if that means they can’t see the oncoming traffic as they cross the road.

What about people with poor vision? How will they use such glasses? In 2017, claims on Reddit said Apple intends to develop prescription lenses, also.

Follow the money

You should be in no doubt that Apple is serious on this mission.

Hires from the new company join a growing team of experts who are researching and developing AR technologies at Apple, including engineers from PrimeSense, Metaio, Display Exploration, Huawei, FlyByMedia, Microsoft/HoloLens, Magic Leap, Lytro, InVisage, Regaind, Vrvana, SensoMotoric, and Emotient, and globally recognized experts such as Se Baek Oh.

With Akonia Holographics, Apple is known to have purchased five companies with expertise around computer vision and AR since June 2017.

Apple registered a patent for an "optical system for head-mounted display" earlier this year. As described, this will be thinner and lighter than existing AR glasses

I am completely certain Apple is looking at holographic reality as an essential component moving forward. (How much storage do you think those holographic maps inside future Apple cars will require?) Meanwhile we have more prosaic uses for such tech.

Controlling the tech

Apple super-analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes Apple will ship these glasses in 2020. In the build up to that release, Apple continues to bring into its own control a selection of key technologies it will need in order to build these next-generation, ultra-high capacity mobile devices.

It makes complete sense for the company to do this.

Not only might it potentially free Apple from the yoke of the competitive SSD market, but it also provides it with a storage technology its competitors cannot easily match.

Implementing holographic storage technologies also seems inevitable, as AR will very swiftly move from smartphones to glasses to projected experiences (think Princess Leia in Star Wars).

All these experiences will need giant storage capacities.

Sam Rosen, managing director and vice president at ABI Research, warns, “The 360-degree video market presents a struggle for content creators — on the one hand, the new technology enables them to tell stories in a more impactful and immersive way, but it also requires new expertise, workflows and hardware.”

What you do with it matters

The company isn’t just thinking about technology; it is also thinking about application. Apple's vice president of education, John Couch, recently told me a little about the importance of VR in the provision of effective educational experiences, saying, “AI and VR is a way to provide effective educational experiences and opportunities” to those who may otherwise be locked out of educational experience.

What’s critical to understand is that once Apple has developed a solution that is simple and intuitive to use, it will be up to developers to create software that makes those solutions essential, so the fact that Apple is also thinking about potential deployment usage cases means it will also be providing the relevant components to build for those needs.

The existence of ARKit proves this.

Not until its baked

You don’t have to dig too deep to find lots of ways in which these technologies will already transform how we do business, and virtual product catalogs are just the thin end of that wedge.

It's still possible — though increasingly unlikely — Apple may pull the project. Apple CEO Tim Cook warned lasted year, “Apple will only ship something if it feels it can do it in ‘a quality way.’”

“We don’t give a rat’s about being first. We want to be the best and give people a great experience,” he says. “But now anything you would see on the market any time soon would not be something any of us would be satisfied with. Nor do I think the vast majority of people would be satisfied.”

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