Apple has just been awarded a new patent that may become the wearable version of the iPad one day: eyeglasses that would display apps, video, images and overlay information on the world around you in real time -- something like Schwarzenegger's vision in The Terminator.
Or, you know, it could be just as silly as Google's Project Glass, only prettier.
Like Google's thingamajig, Apple's eyeglasses would in theory project all this information directly into the user's eyes using LCD projectors.
But unlike Sergey Brin's pet project, Apple's iGlass would not have the projector in front of your eyes. The projectors would be located on the side of the eyeglasses, looking into the glass, not the user's eyes.
Apple's patent describes a method in which the image travels through a special glass to land directly into the user's pupils. This, in theory, will provide the illusion of total immersion.
Also unlike Google's Project Glass, the theoretical iGlass would use two heads-up displays, not just one. Apple's patent says the dual projectors would provide that total immersive experience, which would also avoid motion-sickness because it would use stereoscopic projection.
The patent claims this method will also enable the specs to greatly fill the user's field of view and increase the quality of the image.
But as cool as this may sound, a product like this would suffer from the same problem as Project Glass: it will require users to change their habits and wear something on their heads. People will really need to get an actual benefit out of them beyond the novelty of taking photos and video, or just seeing Yelp ratings on top of restaurants and shops.
The fact is that we don't need to see Yelp ratings at all times, or take photos and video at all times, or see the world through a computer. That's why we have smartphones that can be easily used and put away.
The case of the Bluetooth ear-pieces
But what would it take for consumers to adopt this technology? Let's look at a gadget that promised to change the way we communicate: the Bluetooth earpiece. At one point, these were as futuristic as these glasses, albeit simpler. Many people thought they were going to be the gadget that everyone would want, the way we would all communicate in the future. After all, they provided a very convenient way to talk without using your hands. That's quite a good reason to adopt a technology.
But even while the advantages of hands-free phone operation still seem substantial for consumers, they weren't broadly successful. You can see people using them, but they are a minority. Most people just use their mobile phones, which is the true game-changer that had widespread adoption.
Most people feel weird talking with those earpieces. Most people think they will look like jerks using them. The same could be said about Siri, which is one reason you don't see people using Siri in public places.
I think these glasses will categorically suffer the same fate as those niche technologies, unless there's something about them that make them a must-have product.
But maybe Apple's method can at least make these useless face-invaders look better. Perhaps people will feel less like idiots wearing glasses without weird attachments that make you look like a character from the original Star Trek series. I'm convinced that unless they made them truly indistinguishable from regular glasses people will not buy them. And even then, they will be limited because people who don't wear glasses may not want to wear them just to have an iLife HUD.
For now, however, Apple just has a patent. At least Google has some hardware, even if it's just beta-quality, ultra-expensive, and only does a tiny fraction of all the magical things the company initially told us it would do. [USPTO via TNW via Redmond Pie]