Apple Inc. is reportedly working on a revolutionary new product designed to succeed its popular iPhone. According to Bloomberg, the company is working toward developing the technology for an augmented reality headset by 2019 and the product itself could be finished and shipped to potential customers as early as 2020.
Current generation virtual reality headsets, such as the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream View headset, generally require the use of a separate smartphone as both an engine and a screen for the device.
However, unlike its contemporaries, Apple’s new augmented reality headset will not require a smartphone. It will instead have its own display, a new micro processing chip and an operating system distinct from other Apple products, currently referred to as “rOS” or “reality operating system.” Apple’s engineers are also working on numerous ways users could control the headset, such as head gestures, touch panels and through the Siri voice assistant.
When they first unveiled the iPhone X in September, Apple CEO Tim Cook called it “the future of the smartphone,” according to Newsweek. But it appears that he is looking even further than that, to new technologies, as evidenced by his statement in an earnings report that augmented reality would “change the way we use technology forever.”
Augmented reality and VR are often confused with one another. VR immerses one in a digital world, while augmented reality overlays images, objects and information over the real world. The potential for augmented reality could be enormous, including everything from a sports fan seeing stats while watching a game, to a medical professional seeing common symptoms for various diseases. Companies like startup Meta have already developed headsets for potential education and medical applications.
Cook has praised augmented reality in earning calls and on “Good Morning America,” according to Bloomberg.
“We’re already seeing things that will transform the way you work, play, connect and learn,” he said in the most recent call. “Put simply, we believe AR is going to change the way we use technology forever.” Apple has displayed an interest in augmented reality technology for some time now.
The company built a team focused on developing augmented reality related products a few years ago. Headed by Mike Rockwell, who used to run engineering at Dolby Labs, the team now consists of several hundred engineers from across Apple.
The augmented reality team’s first product was ARKit, a collection of tools that allowed independent software developers to create augmented reality applications for the newest iPhones and iPads.
These applications could utilize the devices’ screens, cameras and processors to create virtual 3-D interfaces for a myriad of activities, including online shopping, gaming and education. The ARKit project was meant to be a transitional step, to allow Apple’s engineers to test their augmented reality technology on an existing project.
However, the main goal of creating a headset with a built-in display capable of streaming 3-D video without draining the battery is a much more monumental undertaking. In an interview with The Independent, Cook expressed similar sentiment, stating, “Anything you would see on the market any time soon would not be something any of us would be satisfied with.”
According to Bloomberg, in reference to the challenge of creating displays, Chief Design Officer Jony Ive told a tech panel last month that “there are certain ideas that we have and we are waiting for the technology to catch up with the idea.”
Apple is not the only company interested in the potential application of augmented reality. Google debuted the unsuccessful Google Glass headset years ago and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at the company’s F8 developer conference his intention to make Facebook and other applications available through augmented reality.
Instead of sticking to its arguably core product of messaging, Facebook has grander ambitions for augmented reality, including replacing common household appliances with augmented reality equivalents, according to Newsweek. “Think about how many of the things around us don’t actually need to be physical,” Zuckerberg told The New York Times. “Instead of a $500 TV sitting in front of us, what’s to keep us from one day having it be a $1 app?”
The technology that will power Apple’s new AR headset will be specially designed for the headset. The company is designing its own chip for the headset, instead of relying on a supplier.
The chip will be similar to the “system-on-a-package” component in the Apple Watch, which can both squeeze components such as graphics processors, AI chips and CPUs into a smaller area compared to standard processors, while consuming less power.
Other factors, like how users will control the headset and launch apps and whether the headset should get its own version of the Apple App Store have not been decided as of yet.
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