Apple plans to launch a new augmented reality headset in 2020, following the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, as the company's next major product category.
People familiar with Apple's interest in AR say the company aims to have the technology ready in 2019, ahead of shipping to customers in 2020. Speaking to Bloomberg on condition of anonymity, the insiders said Apple's AR headset will have its own display and run on a new chip and operating system, known internally as rOS, or reality operating system.
Controls have not been finalized, but the sources claim Apple is investigating the use of touch panels, voice controls (likely via Siri) and head gestures. Virtual meeting rooms, 360-degree video, mapping and other uses are all being considered.
The news comes after Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly voiced his support for augmented reality (AR) over virtual reality (VR). Where VR completely surrounds the wearer's field of vision, replacing it with an entirely virtual world, AR blends the real world with one created by software.
AR devices currently on the market include the Microsoft HoloLens, which let wearers look ahead while seeing computer interface in their field of view. Workers can use the device to give them a heads-up view of instructions as they complete their job, vehicle designers can 'see' the completed car they're working on, augmented in a corner of their design studio, and police officers can view crime scenes while still at the precinct.
Apple's development timeline is very aggressive, according to sources, and its plans could change. Apple had reportedly put a team together to work on AR two years ago. But beyond Cook's comments on AR generally, the company has not elaborated on its plans, standard Apple protocol for unannounced products.
While the latest report suggests Apple is working on an AR headset, the company is already using AR using its iPhone. ARKit lets developers create apps that push out augment computer-generated visuals onto what the smartphone's camera can see — think Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters. With ARKit part of iOS11, Apple can already claim to control the world's most-used AR platform.
IDC recently said AR headsets — from the likes of Apple, Google and others — are "only a matter of time." Technology analyst Gene Munster had previously predicted Apple would release AR glasses in 2020 for $1,300.
As rivals Samsung and Google invest in VR with their respective Gear VR and Daydream View headsets — which use a smartphone to deliver the visuals — Cook remains adamant that AR will be a bigger success. He recently said how AR's effect on the consumer technology industry will be as profound as that of the App Store. "You couldn't imagine your life without apps...AR is like that. It will be that dramatic," he told the Independent.
However, in a bid to calm excitement for Apple's 'Next Big Thing', Cook claimed the technology to make a quality AR headset does not yet exist. "The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face - there's huge challenges in that," he added.
Cook prefers AR to VR because it is less isolating and allows the user to see and communicate with people outside of the experience. With VR entirely covering the user's eyes, this is not possible.