According to the often accurate Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple plans to launch an impressive AR headset next year. The move comes almost a year after Apple acquired the company NextVR, which had expertise in virtual reality.
AR, or “augmented reality”, combines reality with something virtual rather than replacing it completely with computer-generated images, as for VR, or “virtual reality” more people know from glasses like Oculus Quest and the like. AR allows you to see virtual objects in the real world, which can be really useful if you are wondering if the sofa you are looking at online can fit in your living room.
Kuo announces that Apple will equip its AR headset with as many as 15 cameras. Eight of them will be placed around the supplied mask that the user wears over the face. In addition to the eight cameras in the mask itself, another six camera sensors will feed the wearer with what Kuo only calls “innovative biometrics”. He does not go into depth on this, but it can be anything from sensors that read other people’s movements, to sensors that monitor your own facial expressions, or something else. Finally, one of the cameras should monitor the surroundings and help you avoid crashing into objects in the real world while wearing glasses, such as walls, chairs, or people passing by.
These 15 cameras can feed the user with live images and through internal screens let him see through the mask that actually covers the eyes. Much like some VR glasses today allow you to do if you are on your way out of the set VR area, but with much higher precision and level of detail. It reminds me of the Lidar technology Apple has already applied to their high-end devices, but if all the cameras mentioned feature Lidar, and they work at the same time, the battery life will be a challenge for Apple to overcome.
Little is known specifically about the internal screens, but according to Kuo, it is likely that Apple is going for very high-resolution panels with MicroOLED technology. This is the same technology used in modern video glasses and some medical screens that are used near the eye. OLED panels are extremely energy efficient and generate little heat, which can be a great advantage inside a closed pair of glasses close to the face. Other advantages of OLED are that the panels have a bottomless black level and fast response time, as well as very high sharpness even in low light.
The AR glasses might have Apple’s proprietary ARM processor and built-in storage so that they can work without an iPhone or Mac connected. Kuo claims Apple’s AR headset may be able to deliver an immersive experience far superior to existing VR products. Kuo believes Apple will price the AR headset at about $1,000.
In addition to the rumored AR headset, Apple is supposedly also working on an AR pair of glasses called Apple Glass, which has more in common with the shape and size of a traditional pair of normal glasses. The glasses will put computer-generated content on top of what you see naturally without the glasses on you, and will thus have a lot in common with Google Glass. However, the AR glasses will arrive at a much later date.
Ming-Chi Kuo also predicted that Apple will release AR “contact lenses” in the 2030s. Kuo said the lenses are unlikely to have independent computing power and storage,” suggesting they might rely on a connection to an iPhone or other devices. This does sound a bit crazy and very far away, but it seems not that hopelessly futuristic.