Apple’s AR glasses may be coming sooner than we think

What if development has simply moved into a different phase?

Apple, iOS, iPhone, AKit, AR, AR glasses, Apple glasses
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There’s a claim Apple has canned development of AR glasses. This makes no sense to me – I think it means they are coming sooner than we thought.

Through an (augmented) glass darkly

“Apple has suspended the development of head-mounted display (HMD) AR/VR headsets, and already disbanded its team for the development of AR/VR HMDs,” Digitimes claims in a report almost nobody believes.

The publication also said development had been ceased temporarily, with people involved in the project diverted elsewhere.

The report also points out that the man who headed the project, Avi Bar-Zeev, has now left Apple, though most Apple watchers believe work on AR glasses has been ongoing since at least 2006, and possibly before.

What if he has left Apple because his work was done?

You see, what’s interesting is the focus on the word “development” in the Digitimes claim.

Has Apple really ceased development, or has it not reached a new stage in development called “production”?

If the latter, would it not make eminent sense to seed the product development team across the rest of the company in order to help bring Apple’s many different platforms and technologies in line with the new platform invention.

We don’t know the answer, of course.

A credible commitment

But we do know enough to think it highly unlikely Apple has ceased product development.

Think about Apple’s focus on AR.

The company has spent millions to create an ecosystem to support AR experiences.

There was not sign whatsoever of any fading commitment to the tech at WWDC 2019. AR was very much in the public eye with a huge area given over to live AR gaming. You could hear AR gamers whooping all across the front of the event. And Tim Cook always stresses the “profound” difference he thinks AR will make.

We know Apple is investing in the tech to drive these glasses.

Apple’s own developers file patent after patent after patent (and there are many more) that seem to directly relate to such devices. It recently won a patent that could be used in an AR glasses version of a Minority Report UI.

Technologies like Voice Control and Look Around in Maps also open up the possibility for voice first user interfaces, as I discussed recently.

Apple has the teams

Apple has many staff working on AR, including long-time executive, Frank Casanova, who I have always seen as one of the first Apple insiders to develop a vision for mobile that eventually led to iPhone.

Now he leads teams figuring out what problems AR needs to solve.

There is also no indication that Apple has pulled back on AR-related talent recruitment.

In April, Apple hired serial entrepreneur Arthur van Hoff, a founding executive of the Disney-backed VR startup Jaunt.

One month later in May, Joshua Fruhlinger wrote about a big rise in the number of AR-related jobs at Apple:

“The hiring upswing is a clear sign that the Cupertino tech giant is looking to make AR a major part of its mobile iOS devices moving forward. A word-cloud analysis of openings for AR since 2016 shows a clear move from R&D to market research, resale, and retail applications.”

And the secrets are already in the code

There’s even proof that Apple is developing AR glasses of some kind hidden in iOS 13’s code, as spotted by smart and sleuthy software sage, Steve Troughton-Smith.

He went so far as to Tweet that he thought the evidence he’s found suggests Apple’s AR glasses may be “coming even sooner than we thought".

“What kind of evidence?,” he added.

“ARDisplayDevice.framework; ARDisplayDeviceRemoteExtensionContext, stereo AR in GameController framework. Does seems to back up the 'iPhone accessory' claims from Bloomberg a while back if AR apps are an Extension point like WatchKit was..”

The quality of debate

These days it only takes a few rumors to spark up the usual groaning, embittered chorus of Apple critics.

These tend to indulge themselves in muttering about the non-appearance of AirPower and vituperative nonsense about Tim Cook not being a ‘product guy’.

I always have this sense that those who most castigate Cook are men of a certain type cursed with a fragile sense of their own masculinity. Perhaps that's true -- it doesn't matter.

But you can ignore both sets of criticism.

You can be certain that as night follows day, AR glasses will eventually appear and Apple will eventually deliver a solution for wireless charging.

We just don’t know when.

Or perhaps we do

Spookily accurate analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo shared his expectation that Apple may begin manufacturing AR glasses as soon as Q4 2019.

Add Voice Control in iOS 13 to that claim and add a little spice of Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade, and you can begin to see a platform emerging.

Not to mention the vast implications for such technology in health.

I can't help but remain highly skeptical at Digitimes claims.

Reading between the lines and pondering the available evidence – and considering the direction of travel for so many strands of the company’s vast empire now appears to combining, I’m minded to think we’re looking at a new and highly viable platform opportunity.

Which is what this is. 

I think it’s a future that is closer than we think.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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