March 12, 2019
According to a recent note to investors written by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is known for frequently having inside information on Apple’s product plans, Apple could begin mass production of its augmented reality headset by the end of 2019 and unveil it as early as mid-2020 — although he admitted the timeline is optimistic. In May 2018, however, Loup Ventures founder Gene Munster predicted we wouldn’t see the Apple AR headset until late 2021. Kuo stated his belief that Apple’s first AR device will only be a display, with the iPhone performing all the rendering, data connection and GPS.
Apple Insider reports that, “it is unclear if the accessory would be connected by a cable or take the wireless route and use Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or another similar technology for close-range communications.” If indeed the processing does reside in the iPhone, the resulting headset will be “extremely light … at least in comparison to current-generation VR headsets and versions that slot an iPhone or another smartphone into a frame for use as a display.”
Since the iPhone already enables ARKit experiences, the potential form factor is realistic but “does raise questions about how the connection with the host mobile device will function, as well as power concerns for both the headset and the iPhone.” An earlier rumor “suggested it would use 60-gigahertz WiGig to make a connection with a host without cables,” but that would “limit the device to working either with a future iPhone model with WiGig support built in or some form of adapter would be required for use with older iPhone models.”
Elsewhere, Apple Insider reports that Apple’s upcoming AR headset relies on “a considerable number of patents and applications … including those that use the technology away from a head-mounted display.” A March 2018 patent filing for “displays with multiple scanning modes” may indicate that, “the display element of a headset could be optimized to allow the screen to refresh at as high a speed as possible, an issue that is compounded at higher resolutions due to the number of pixels at play.”
In April 2018, Apple filed an application for an “eye tracking system,” and in March 2018 filed another for a “Predictive Foveated Virtual Reality System,” which would offer a “dual resolution system that outputs both a high-resolution image at the same time as a lower-resolution version.”
Software is as important as hardware in Apple’s plans for an AR headset; “while ARKit is a great start, enabling developers to easily add AR content to their apps, Apple is exploring ways to expand its utility, both for headsets and for devices.” In August 2018, another patent application — “Processing of equirectangular object data to compensate for distortion by spherical projections” — described how to fix errors “when combining together videos produced by 360-degree camera rigs.”
In January 2017, Apple described “a mobile device that can detect its surroundings and provide information to users about items in real time, such as paintings in an art gallery.” In February 2019, Apple was granted a patent for a “Method for representing points of interest in a view of a real environment on a mobile device and mobile device therefor.”