Augmented reality (AR) is something that Apple, and especially its CEO Tim Cook, has been excited about for quite some time. That manifested itself already in ARKit for iOS devices, but the company has been rumored to be working on a headset/glasses for quite some time.
And now The Information says that the launch for Apple’s first AR headset is penciled in for 2022, and its first AR glasses will launch in 2023. According to sources speaking with the publication, Apple made the internal announcement to 1,000 employees in the Steve Jobs Theater recently, signaling that the AR headset/glasses project is a big one, and that Apple is putting a lot of stock in the future launch.
Apple executives discussed the timelines, which haven’t been previously reported, in an internal presentation to employees at the company’s Cupertino, California, campus in October, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple Vice President Mike Rockwell, who heads the team responsible for Apple’s AR and virtual reality initiatives, led the meeting, which included new details about the design and features of the AR headset, these people said. The product timetables run counter to recent analyst and media reports that said an Apple AR device could arrive as early as next year.
The technology that Apple will champion here includes “advanced human detection”, “3D scanning”, and more. And as far as design is concerned, the report states that Apple’s first AR headset will look similar to the Facebook Oculus Quest headset, albeit a bit trimmed down. More to that point, Apple is said to be focusing on “lightweight materials” and will reportedly “make heavy use of fabrics” in an effort to keep the headset light and comfortable for long-term use cases.
The presentation by Apple went over plenty of the features coming to the first AR headset. That includes the ability to “see other people standing in front of and behind virtual objects”, and the high-resolution displays and camera will make it possible for future users to read small print clearly. The AR headset will also reportedly be able to map surfaces, edges, and the dimensions of a room better than what current AR headsets are able to do right now.
To illustrate these capabilities, attendees at the October meeting were shown a recording of a demonstration in which a virtual coffee machine was placed on a real kitchen table surrounded by people in a room. The virtual coffee machine obscured people standing behind it in the room.
With the hardware still in progress, Apple is also setting its sights on third-party software developers. The report states that Apple plans on reaching out to select companies sometime in 2021, keeping up with its planned launch of its first AR headset in 2022.
Talk about the AR glasses wasn’t as in-depth, so to speak (which makes sense, considering they won’t see the light of day until 2023), but the Apple executives on hand at the presentation said they will feature “thick frames that house the battery and chips”, but will still retain an overall design to high-end sunglasses.
The devices even have codenames. The AR headset is codenamed N301 and the AR glasses are codenamed N421.
Of course, it’s possible that the final design for both the AR headset and the AR glasses will change before 2022 or 2023 rolls around. What’s more, while Apple is planning to launch the products in a few years, even those plans could change as a result of development issues that crop up.
Still, considering this was a major hands-on announcement at the Steve Jobs Theater, it certainly sounds like Apple is going all-in with the AR headset/glasses move, and we should expect to see them soon-ish.
This does fly in the face of earlier rumors that suggested Apple was planning to launch its AR headset and/or glasses in 2020, unfortunately. Still, it sounds like ever since Apple’s Kim Vorrath joined the AR team earlier this year to “bring some order” to the project, things are starting to finally smooth out.
Most recently we heard that Apple was reportedly planning on tapping Valve to work as a partner on its AR headset.
Bloomberg corroborates the report, indicating that Apple plans a headset that combines VR and AR to be released in 2021 or 2022, with a pair of lightweight AR glasses to follow in 2023.
Update (09/11/19): Link to Bloomberg added.
Is an Apple-branded AR headset or a pair of AR glasses something you’re excited about?