With WWDC next month (albeit in a new "online experience" that will reportedly involve livestreams from iPhones), all eyes will be on Apple to deliver its next big thing. What will it be? A new ARM-powered MacBook? Leaker Jon Prosser says it could be "Apple Glass," the company's augmented reality (AR) glasses.
Prosser, who's been extraordinarily busy this year accurately leaking information on the iPhone SE (2020), new iPad Pro, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro shared some major details on the rumored AR headset.
Not insane pricing — Maybe the most pertinent information on Apple Glass is the price. Prosser says Apple is targeting at $499 launch price, which would be very affordable compared to the $2,300 Magic Leap charges for its half-baked Leap 1 or the $3,500 for Microsoft's HoloLens 2. It'd also be a third of the cost of Google Glass when launched for $1,500 in 2013.
For an accessory to the iPhone, $499 may be the magic number to sway AR skeptics into shelling out just to have the new new. Recall: the iPad launched at $499 and the Apple Watch started at $349. Both priced under $500. Both products became a smashing success for Apple. It'd also be well within the Oculus Quest, which starts at $399 (yes, VR is different from AR, but they're both headsets).
Prescriptions and wireless charging — According to Prosser, Apple Glass will connect directly to an iPhone and rely on it for all processing power. AR visuals allegedly appear in both lenses. He claims the prototype frames are made of plastic, but it could be replaced by metal, and resemble regular glasses. So don't expect anything too wild. Sunglasses/tinted lenses are out of the question (for now) because they reportedly interfere with the lens' ability to display information. Prosser says Apple Glass can be controlled with gestures on and in-front of the frames.
When the Apple Watch launched, Apple called the smartwatch its most personal computer ever. That title might soon go to Apple Glass. As a device that's worn on the face — over the eyes — the trickiest part is going to be accommodating people's prescriptions. Like regular glasses (and Google Glass long ago), adding a prescription will likely increase the cost (how much more will probably depend on how bad your eyesight is).
As for charging, Prosser says the prototype he's seen has a stand for wireless charging. That makes sense. Apple is moving towards a port-free world with wireless charging replacing Lightning and USB.
LiDAR scanner, but no camera — This is interesting. Prosser says Apple Glass won't have a built-in camera, but will have a LiDAR scanner on the right temple. Without a camera, how would the AR glasses "see" the real world? While a regular camera is able to see in more detail, a LiDAR scanner — if powerful enough — can more accurately recognize objects and environments and analyze depth.
Machine learning could then be applied to understand and identify obstacles. The implications of not including a camera would fall in line with Apple's firm stance on privacy. When Google Glass launched, it was received with vitriol because of its camera, which allowed creeps to always record without bystanders necessarily knowing they were being filmed. These "Glassholes" were buzzkills and helped bury the headset with consumers. Apple could avoid the same disaster by assuring people there's no camera for photos or video recording.
We already know Apple is serious about LiDAR technology. The latest iPad Pros both sport a LiDAR scanner and the iPhone 12 Pro is expected to have one as well. To learn more about LiDAR and what it could mean for AR in Apple devices, check out this great explainer by our sister site Inverse.
What's the killer app? — Prosser says Apple could announce Apple Glass as a "one more thing" at this year's iPhone event, which could be held in October (and not September); COVID-19 could push things back to later in Q4 or March 202. A launch in Q4 of 2021 or Q1 of 2022 would then follow. It'd be a similar rollout to the Apple Watch — announce early and get developers to start thinking and working on potential app ideas.
But what will the killer app be for Apple Glass? What will be the killer experiences that will make people want to wear a computer on their face? That remains to be seen and will be the biggest challenge for Apple. The reason Magic Leap has abandoned consumers — following Microsoft and Google in focusing on the enterprise — is because the app developer environment simply wasn't there. I mean, if reading 2D comic books with a little bit of depth shift through a narrow field of view was considered a groundbreaking AR experience, then the writing was already on the wall for the Leap 1 headset years ago. The Apple difference is that it has over 20 million registered developers on iOS.
In Prosser's video, he claims Apple Glass could scan special QR codes (maybe these round QR codes?). I can already foresee using the glasses to scan codes and potentially bring objects to life. Imagine going to any store and being able to "scan" objects and then bring them home to visualize them in your space. It's not like Apple isn't already obsessed with measuring objects given the AR Measure app is pre-installed on every iOS device.
The onus will be on Apple to make people care about AR in glasses with must-have AR experiences, whether first- or third-party (the "AR Lamborghini" earlier this month was just scratching the surface). Not an easy feat, but then again Apple also successfully made the Apple Watch and AirPods a big fucking deal and reinvented the iPhone with the iPhone X. The important thing will be making sure Apple Glass doesn't end up like HomePod: a great product ruined by limited capabilities and high pricing.