What was tipped to be one of the hottest consumer technology devices of the coming decade may have already been killed off months ago. It is being reported that Apple is no longer developing a pair of augmented reality smart glasses.
Expected to arrive sometime in 2020 or 2021, the Apple's smart glasses were touted as a more practical and useful response to the commercial failure of Google Glass, and a major new product category for Apple. Aside from the slow-growing Watch, Apple hasn't had an iPhone-level smash hit since Tim Cook took over from Steve Jobs as CEO in 2011.
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It was hoped that the glasses would see Apple pick up where Google left off, and show that augmented reality eyewear can be a commercial success. But this week, a report from DigiTimes says the company has discontinued development of the device, and that a team working on it was disbanded in May.
Translated by Google Translate, the July 12 DigiTimes report states: "Apple has discontinued the development of AR/VR headsets. According to people familiar with the situation, Apple originally had the responsibility to develop AR/VR headsets. However, the team was disbanded in May and the original members were transferred to other product developments."
Cook has said repeatedly over recent years that he believes augmented reality has a strong future ahead of it, even more so than virtual reality. The current iPhone and iPad make use of ARKit, an augmented reality software development suite open to app and game developers. But putting AR into a pair of smart glasses was expected by many to be the next logical step.
The news comes six months after it was reported that Apple had downsized its Project Titan autonomous car division by laying off 200 workers, and in the more recent wake of news that design chief Jony Ive is leaving Apple. That said, his new venture, called LoveFrom, will count Apple as its first client.
Although nothing official has ever been said by Apple about the potential for smart glasses (and no images of such devices have leaked), momentum had certainly grown in the rumor mill in recent years. Often-accurate Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said as recently as March 2019 that the glasses were still going ahead, and would be sold in 2020 as an iPhone accessory. Bloomberg reported in late-2017 that an AR headset was in the works at Apple, with a release date planned for 2020.
While Apple will undoubtedly retain an interest in augmented reality, we suspect the company has encountered the same technological stumbling blocks which halted Google in 2013. It is tough to create a device which is worn on the face, yet is comfortable, attractive and desirable, while also being useful and offering an all-day battery life.
Some companies are making headway with the AR smart glasses idea, with North arguably being the most prominent. However its glasses, called the Focals, are still quite large, limited in what they can do, and cost $599 (which is albeit down significantly from their initial $999 price).
For now, we wouldn't be surprised if Apple takes the same approach to AR glasses as it did to autonomous cars and its Project Titan division. That is, downscale, reassess, look at what others are doing, then continue to quietly work on the technology in the background until it is ready for primetime.