Is Apple readying answer to Google’s augmented reality head-mounted display?

By , Jul 3, 2012

Wearable computing is coming your way in a big way and will be here to stay, or so would Google have us believe. You must have seen a spectacular demo of the search giant’s Minority Report-like wearable computer glasses (if not, I urge you to see the clip right after the break).

Google’s strong Project Glass push has given wearable computing lots more credibility, but it might take Apple to mainstream the technology. iShades, anyone?

Enter the Alexandria, Virginia-headquartered U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), which earlier today issued an interesting patent grant to Apple that outlines techniques for projecting an image onto the eyes of a user via a viewable display.

That sounds a lot like Google’s augmented reality head-mounted display, doesn’t it? The search giant attached an appropriate sci-fi name to the experimental gadget. They are calling it Project Glass and here are some press shots.


Click to enlarge. Nice models, by the way, Google!

Google I/O attendees were able to preorder the Glass for a cool $1,500 a piece, with shipping slated for early 2013. More information on Project Glass is available on the official Google+ page and over at Wikipedia.

The aforementioned Apple patent is titled “Peripheral treatment for head-mounted displays” and differs from Google’s device in that it projects an image onto a user’s eyes in order to fill both the peripheral and the direct vision, thus achieving what’s called full immersion.

Contract this to the Glass gizmo which only beams images onto your peripheral vision to minimize distractions while walking.

The filing also calls for use of two small LCD displays for a larger field of view and, more importantly, to solve the unpleasant motion sickness issue.

Of course, a patent is one thing and an actual product based on it is an entirely different matter. Google at least has a working product, though I wouldn’t dismiss Apple because other patents exist, indicating Cupertino is at least committing engineering resources to research this emerging technology.

For example, back in 2008 Apple filed patents for its own head-mounted computer glasses. And in 2010, it hired wearable computer expert Richard DeVaul whose work at MIT included something called Memory Glasses.

Founder and president of AWare Technologies, DeVaul worked for some time as Apple’s Senior Prototype Engineer, presumably developing secret wearable technology with Jonny Ive, before leaving for Google this year to work as a Rapid Evaluator on the Glass Project.

And last December, The New York Time’s Nick Bilton reported that Apple was “conceptualizing and even prototyping some wearable devices”. The article went on to note that Apple had also experimented with “prototype products that could relay information back to the iPhone” and use Siri to communicate with the user.

These conceptual products could also display information on other Apple devices, like an iPod, which Apple is already encouraging us to wear on our wrists by selling Nanos with watch faces.

The story also mentioned “a curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist”.

Taking into account a recent rumor that Apple is interested in Samsung’s flexible displays and knowing iOS devices made since last August have power-efficient Bluetooth 4.0, it’s fairly safe to conclude that something involving wearable computing is being at least cooked inside Jonny Ive’s design bunker, where only a handful of executives are allowed in.

If you ask Dan Butterfield of ProCamera.com, Apple can quickly be a formidable competitor.

One reason why Apple can slide into this space is the fact that software + hardware + design + AppStore are critical for success. No one is better than Apple at building platforms and the seamless integration of elegant hardware and software. Apple’s ongoing development of artificial intelligence (AI) on iOS (aka Siri), is also a huge advantage.

The rest of Butterfield’s post is insightful and will get you up to speed on wearable computing.

As for Gogole, I thought the Glass demo was the most interesting part of Google I/O. Tech demos rarely get any better than this. You’ve got professionals freefalling, skydiving and doing Hangouts in the air before landing safely on Moscone West’s rooftop.

Then they do dangerous jumps across rooftops and descend down the rope to the ground level. As a cherry on top, these dudes drive their stunt bikes right inside the building, almost hitting people on the show floor, and then head into the keynote room and climb on stage to give Larry Page high fives.

It’s worth pointing out that Google’s idea isn’t really all that new. Back in 2000, IBM created a hip advert showing off a mockup of their vision of wearable computing at the time, embedded right below.

Whichever way you look at it, I find it hard to believe Apple would be content with sitting on the sidelines when Google is making some significant strides in wearable computing. Granted, consumers may never adopt Google’s HUD glasses, but the possibilities are certainly intriguing.

Do you think Apple is remotely interested in crazy head-mounted device concepts?

Perhaps they’re simply researching wearable devices with bendable displays?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/antman217 Anthony Antunez

    The ultimate POV camera.

  • insp1112

    God damn it! I wear glasses already. It will be awsome if apple brings out wearable device that looks like contact lens

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1595420643 Simche Apple Konstantinovic

    Eh, I wonder WHO will afford These glasses if ever released from Apple… People are already giving high tag price on their devices, an OK.. But this hmm..

  • http://twitter.com/x_rus_x Vitaliy Anonymous

    1 year later – Apple releases iGlass.
    1 year, 1 month later – Apple sues Google.

  • Shugo Asakura

    And thus the EYEphone was born.

  • http://twitter.com/appleXIII nonya business

    i think i would only buy something like this is it was a contact lens instead of full glasses because thats just stupid. but could you imagine the possibilities with a contact lens HUD, you could use it for your cell phone, home phone, vehicle and many other things. it would definitely be a game changer

  • smtp25

    WOW its a head mounted camera – thats new ? Wheres the HUD part?

  • http://twitter.com/rlmeena Roshan

    Wow, now Apple will be copying Google. Good one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1533908901 Karan Nagpal

    i think apple should name it iEYE :P

    • Sina

      or Maybe just “i” (eye) lol

  • http://twitter.com/yaclexx Lester

    other than taking pictures and stream video what does theses super expensive glasses do?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.penner.54 Kevin Penner

    Apple isn’t the first one out with anything, but they wait till they get it right. You can bet they have an Eyephone in the works. If not, they’ll go the way of RIM, because this technology would be bigger than iPhone and iPad COMBINED.