The Apple AR glasses would work with iPhones to display images and other information, and may include other augmented-reality features, according to the report, which cited anonymous sources. The company has ordered a small number of “near-eye displays” from a supplier for testing, per the Bloomberg report.
Apple has not been secretive about its interest in AR technology, which could represent a major new product category. That’s especially urgent for the company since sales of iPhones have slowed in recent quarters.
“We are high on AR for the long run,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told analysts on the company’s quarterly earnings call in July. “We think there are great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity. And so we’re investing, and the No. 1 thing is to make sure our products work well with other developers’ products like Pokémon (Go).” (Cook mispronounced it as “PO-keh-man,” instead of “PO-keh-mon.”)
In 2013, Apple acquired Israeli motion-sensing startup PrimeSense, which had developed the technology for Microsoft’s Kinect gaming system. Since then Apple has bought augmented-reality startups Metaio and Flyby Media.
As a category, smart glasses have failed to take off so far. Google, an early entrant, last year killed off its consumer Google Glass products, which included video-recording features.
But Apple has a track record of taking product concepts that haven’t succeeded and turning them into mass-market hits (see: iPhone and iPad).
“I do think that a significant portion of the population of developed countries, and eventually all countries, will have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day,” Cook said at the Utah Tech Tour conference in September. Despite some “really hard technology challenges,” he said, augmented reality “will happen in a big way and we will wonder how we ever lived without it, like we wonder how we lived without our phone today.”
To date, tech companies have expended more time and money in virtual reality tech, with VR headsets including Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and Google’s new Daydream View.
Companies focusing on AR and “mixed reality” include heavily bankrolled startup Magic Leap and Microsoft, whose HoloLens headset lets users interact with holograms and digital content. In an adjacent move in the wearable computing market, Snap is starting to sell $130 video sunglasses, called Spectacles, designed to capture 10-second videos and upload them to Snapchat.