Apple Smart Glasses and VR Headset Details Leak
Apple has spent years working on wearables and is planning to roll out a set of augmented reality smart glasses and a headset with virtual reality and augmented reality capabilities, according to a new report from Bloomberg. Both will be controlled using Apple’s Siri voice assistant, but arguments over design have delayed their release for a couple more years.
The AR and VR team at Apple, led by Mike Rockwell, has grown about 1,000 people, according to the report. The unit is working on a set of smart glasses with AR abilities called N421 and a full VR headset referred to as N301. Although Rockwell supposedly operates with some independence from the central Apple hierarchy, a big fight over the N301’s design pushed back its appearance in stores. The headset was conceived of as more advanced and powerful than any existing wearable, but to reach that level without overheating or weighing down the user, it would require a stationary hub connected wirelessly to the device. The headset could operate without the hub, but with reduced functionality.
Former design Chief Jony Ive though having a hub was a clunky mistake and that the headset should only be as powerful as the tech within. He also generally preferred the smart glasses approach of overlaying reality with more information rather than shutting it out entirely. As Apple CEO Tim Cook chose to agree with Ive, the headset had to go back to the designers. The headset, as it is described in the report, still sounds pretty robust, however. It includes an advanced sound system and screens with a high-enough resolution to trick the eye into not even recognizing that it sees a screen. The headset also is mostly fabric and looks a lot like Facebook’s Oculus Quest. The headset will use its own Apple App Store with games, video streaming, and virtual meeting programs.
There aren’t many details in the report about the smart glasses, except that they are more complex than the VR headset. According to frequent Apple news leaker Jon Prosser, the N421 will be called Apple Glasses and will cost $500. The cost of either product is still undecided, according to the Bloomberg report. If Prosser is correct and if Apple Glasses are the same as the N421, the glasses will connect an iPhone to the have holographic displays in both lenses and include gesture controls. There’s still a lot of unknowns, even where the reports don’t contradict each other. At one point, there were hints the lenses would be nothing but holographic displays based on a patent granted to Apple last year for a glass-like material able to shift between transparent and opaque and described as useful for augmented reality.
Race to Wear
A lot of these details may end up changing before any customer actually puts them on. The headset will be announced next year for release in 2022, while the smart glasses won’t be out until at least 2023, according to the report. Prosser had predicted the Apple Glasses coming out in the fall of 2021, at the earliest, but Bloomberg pushes that timeline well ahead. Prosser also pointed to the manufacturing crisis precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for the delay, which could be true at the same time.
If Bloomberg and Prosser are both correct, the smart glasses will have Siri along with gesture control, while the VR headset will come with remote control. Apple is continually improving Siri’s capabilities, but it may be planning for a significant upgrade using the technology from Inductiv and other AI startups it recently acquired. Apple will need a lot more than just a nice frame for glasses to compete. There are already many kinds of smart glasses, with more on the way. The second generation of North Focals smart glasses are supposed to arrive this year. Facebook, in partnership with Ray-Ban, is building something similar. However, both North and the Facebook smart glasses are built around an integrated voice assistant in addition to manual control in the shape of a ring. Amazon is committing even harder to audio with the Echo Frames, which, like the Bose Frames, rely entirely on a voice assistant to manage the smart glasses. The market is going to mature rapidly at this rate, meaning the N421 will really need to impress people when it arrives three years from now.