Apple turned augmented reality (AR) into a core feature of iOS, with developers able to code apps that allow the iPhone and iPad to project digital objects into the world through the camera. Games set in your living room, measuring apps, and home design apps are among the types of applications that make use of AR capabilities built into iOS. But that’s just barely scratching the surface of what AR could do. Perhaps the most exciting use of AR on iPhone comes from Google’s Maps app, which has a Live View directions feature that shows navigation data over a live stream of the real world.
No matter how big or small the AR features are, we can’t experience them without looking through a screen. The iPhone and iPad are Apple’s only AR devices right now, but it’s not an ideal AR experience. AR glasses would be a better tool, and it so happens that Apple is reportedly developing two different kinds of headsets that would power AR content. Apple might not be ready to confirm anything until the products are ready for mass consumption, but Tim Cook just explained in an interview how the AR glasses might work.
Apple is reportedly going to launch a mixed reality (MR) device as soon as next year, which will offer both AR and virtual reality (VR) capabilities. The headset could be launched during a press event later this year, according to a recent leak. According to other reports, the more sophisticated AR device would launch in 2025 and look like a pair of traditional glasses.
Apple is notoriously secretive about its products. It rarely announces products before they’re ready to launch in stores, so Cook would never make a mistake like confirming that the AR glasses are in development. But the Apple CEO tackled AR in a wide-ranging interview with Kara Swisher on her podcast, Sway.
Cook gave the host of the show a practical example as to what AR could do for users:
In terms of AR, the promise of AR is that you and I are having a great conversation right now. Arguably, it could even be better if we were able to augment our discussion with charts or other things to appear. Your audience would also benefit from this, too, I think. And so when I think about that in different fields, whether it’s health, whether it’s education, whether it’s gaming, whether it’s retail, I’m already seeing AR take off in some of these areas.
The sort of experience that Cook describes would require some sort of medium for the user to see AR content. AR glasses would work even better than an iPhone or iPad. Sharing AR content works on iPhones and iPads right now, but similar capabilities could be built into AR glasses in the earliest stages of the design process. This could be expanded to having an entire audience of a virtual event seeing AR content when wearing the glasses.
When asked about the “glow and behold” invite teaser for WWDC 2021 (top image) which might be interpreted as a nod to the development of AR glasses, Cook wouldn’t elaborate on any hidden meaning. The CEO also said that he doesn’t talk about future products when asked about the rumored mixed reality headset that has been making the news with an increased cadence in the past few months.
Cook did say that he thinks the AR promise “is even greater in the future.” When Swisher concluded that AR is a critically important part of Apple’s future the CEO concurred that “it is.”
While the CEO would not offer explicit hardware or software details about Apple’s future smart glasses, the kind of AR experiences he described should be sufficient to clue the audience in on what Apple hopes to achieve with this new product. Swisher’s Sway podcast is available on iTunes, with a full transcript over on The New York Times.