Apple's latest version of the iPhone's iOS 13 software, known as the GM or 'Golden Master', includes numerous references to an unannounced augmented reality headset and the software it runs.
Although the company is yet to announce such a product, or even plans to produce one, the company and its boss Tim Cook has for years sung the praises of augmented reality (AR).
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Now, after speculation from reliable sources like analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that an AR headset is in the works, the company looks closer than ever to making that a reality.
Shortly after Apple revealed the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and Watch Series 5, it released the iOS 13 Golden Master. iOS developer Steve Troughton-Smith then go to work, dissecting the software to see what he could find, before tweeting about his discovery.
He tweeted multiple screenshots of what he found, saying: "StarBoard framework on iOS 13 now. StarBoard is Apple's system shell for stereo augmented reality apps (headset). Guess secrecy is out?"
This comes just a few days after AR references were found in an earlier build of iOS 13, including the StarBoard system, and 'Greta', believed to be the codename for Apple's AR headset.
Troughton-Smith continued: "The GameController framework in iOS 13 also has a gamepad profile for a device meant to be used while using stereo AR apps. The controller profile has a clicky trackpad, a trigger button, and a system (home?) button. Handheld controller for Apple's headset?"
This description sounds very similar to the hand controllers used alongside other AR and virtual reality headsets, like the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and Microsoft HoloLens.
The developer went on to say the system appears to run on an iPhone, in the same way the smartphone is used to power CarPlay on a car's dashboard display. "Very curious to see whether the headset or the iPhone runs the StarBoard shell itself, but seems very much like the iPhone does the rendering," Troughton-Smith added.
This would be quite a demonstration of the iPhone's power, as other AR headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens are powered by their own onboard computer, not a smartphone and its mobile processor.
Further digging suggested that, when the AR headset is attached to an iPhone, "it has a dashboard of some kind that shows you your available Stereo AR apps (like CarPlay)."
The biggest clue that Apple is well into development of an AR platform within iOS 13 is a readme file which explains how Apple employees can run augmented reality apps on an iPhone when they don't have access to the headset, presumably for testing purposes while prototype headsets are in short supply at Apple HQ.
Fellow developer Guilherme Rambo also tweeted, embedded below, about his own discoveries of AR mentions in iOS 13 and also the latest version of Apple's software development program, Xcode.
We should say that it is entirely possible that an Apple AR headset will never see the light of day. But for so much information relating to a headset to appear in iOS 13 is a big deal. Firstly, we can safely assume it is here by mistake and should not have been included in the build of iOS 13 distributed to the public (or even just to iOS developers).
But, secondly, it looks like Apple is fairly well advanced with its work on this device. We know it uses augmented reality, runs its own versions of iPhone apps, and appears to be powered by an iPhone. What remains a mystery for now is whether this is a pair of smart glasses, a super-high-resolution virtual and augmented reality headset, or a more affordable Samsung Gear VR-style device intended to be a (relatively) affordable iPhone accessory.
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