Apple is reportedly working on a set of augmented reality glasses, similar to Google Glass or the Microsoft HoloLens, that could launch as soon as this year. The company is said to be working with legendary optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss on a lightweight pair of glasses that could be announced as soon as this year.
The partnership was reported by tech blogger Robert Scoble, who received confirmation from a Zeiss employee at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week. Zeiss was stationed in the AR section of the show, but it was not showing off any relevant tech. Scoble previously believed that Apple would launch an AR kit in 2018, but Zeiss’s appearance at the show and the employee’s comments suggest a launch could come sooner than expected.
AR has had some rocky beginnings, but the technology shows promise. Google Glass was derided as useless and slightly awkward-looking, but the Microsoft HoloLens has avoided these pitfalls by explicitly gearing itself towards industry applications. Overlaying virtual objects onto the real world offers a number of possibilities, and Microsoft has created the Windows Holographic platform to let developers come up with their own ideas. More recently, Pokémon GO brought augmented creature catching to a wide audience.
Apple’s interest in AR is in keeping with previous comments from Tim Cook. In several interviews, the Apple CEO has praised AR technology as a way of bringing virtual objects into the real world without placing barriers in the way. “There’s no substitute for human contact,” Cook said in a BuzzFeed interview in October. “And so you want the technology to encourage that.”
The company has also made some acquisitions and patent applications that suggest it’s considering a move into augmented reality. Patents dating back to 2008 show a lightweight set of glasses, similar to Google Glass, that would overlay information onto the real world. In 2013, Apple acquired PrimeSense, whose work on the Xbox 360’s Kinect paved the way for a new generation of gesture-based sensor technologies:
What this eventual product would look like is anyone’s guess, but Apple’s new AirPods may provide some clues about how they function. The new headphones, alongside the Powerbeats3, are powered by the W1 chip, which offers wireless Bluetooth connectivity through an incredibly simple setup process. The iPhone will detect when a W1 chip is near, display an image of the headphones, and pair up immediately. It’s been described as “about as dead simple as you can imagine,” and it’s likely Apple will want to build on this technology to make the AR glasses as easy to set up as possible. It’s anyone’s guess, but this first clue that Apple may launch something this year is an exciting step towards the company jumping into the AR craze.