Apple won’t be launching new augmented reality products until at least 2022 to 2023, the Information reported on Monday, citing an internal Apple presentation described by sources.
Apple has been rumoured to be developing products in the augmented reality space for some time—with corporate acquisitions, iOS code snippets hinting at a stereo AR headset, seemingly related patents, and analyst predictions of a 2020 release all contributing to the rumour mill. Apple, however, has not made any product announcements. The Information’s report suggests it could stay that way for a while, with sources telling the site an AR headset (codenamed N301) isn’t headed for release until 2022 and “sleeker pair of AR glasses” (N421) not hitting the market until 2023.
The Information wrote that the presentation on the matter filled a 1,000-person seat auditorium at Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters and included details on possible features, development updates, and info on the products’ “thermal architecture.” The N301 headset is equipped with outward-facing cameras and is planned to offer both AR and virtual reality capabilities, sources told the site, and resembles a more elegant Oculus Quest device. Furthermore, the headset will “have a high-resolution display that will allow users to read small type and see other people standing in front of and behind virtual objects” as well as offer advanced 3D-mapping capabilities
According to the Information, the N421 glasses are not as far into development and currently look like normal sunglasses with “thick frames that house the battery and chips.” Additionally, sources said Apple is experimenting with a system that darkens the lenses when an app is in use (a sort of busy indicator) and that executives speculated as to whether N421 could eventually replace the iPhone. Major challenges for both devices include finding cheaper ways to make them lighter, with Apple exploring “lightweight aerospace or composite materials” that remain expensive for now, the Information wrote.
Apple declined to comment to the Information beyond a standard statement that it doesn’t address “rumours and speculation.” However, Bloomberg confirmed some of the details of the report, with a source saying Apple had rolled back its date from 2020 (although 2021 apparently remains a possibility). The news network additionally reported that engineers have commenced work on “rOS,” an operating system that will allow current devices to be compatible with the headset and glasses.
Rivals Facebook, Microsoft, and Google have all been competing to perfect AR and VR technology, which is widely seen as the next frontier in immersive media (though consumer interest in pricey headsets tied to mobile devices has so far been limited). Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Independent in 2017 that AR is “a big idea, like the smartphone,” adding that “The smartphone is for everyone, we don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge.” That may be so, but it looks like it’s gonna take Apple a while to pull it off.