Tim Cook is known for prophesying the promise of augmented reality (AR), a technology that overlays digital graphics onto the real world, usually a smartphone or tablet. In 2016, the Apple CEO even said it would one day become as commonplace as “eating three meals a day.”
Skip ahead four years and there are legions of rumors and leaks that Apple is trying to get into the AR game—specifically, through the lenses of a new kind of eyewear, purportedly called Apple Glass
The most public failure of the AR glasses idea comes from Google back in 2014. But with an extra nine years under its belt and armed with the lessons from Google’s failed augmented reality experiment, Apple might just have a fighting chance at bringing the eyewear to the mainstream for the first time.
What Features Will Apple Glass Have?
Think about Apple Glass as a companion to your iPhone. Smartphones are already a second screen in some scenarios, so the eyeglasses might be considered your third screen, bringing information from your phone right to your eyes.
According to a Bloomberg report, the lenses will have a holographic display. Through those lenses, Apple Glass will show anything from texts, to emails, to maps, or games in the wearer’s field of vision.
Multiple reports suggest that Apple is considering creating a fully separate App Store for the headset, as well as a special operating system, likely called glassOS. This falls in line with the Apple Watch and watchOS, as well as Apple TV and tvOS.
And then there’s two Apple patents from June that suggest the company is working on an optical vision correction system, meaning that the smart glasses will eliminate the need for prescription lenses or contacts. The system will address everything from astigmatism, to far-sightedness, and near-sightedness, according to Patently Apple, which first spotted the patents.
What Are the Specs?
The short version: nobody knows yet. But gear review sites like Tom’s Guide have made some speculations based on the state-of-the-art in smart glasses, like Microsoft’s Hololens 2. For one thing, the glasses will probably have at least the same field-of-view as the Hololens 2, coming in at 52 degrees of vision, as well as a 47 pixels-per-inch resolution.
If Apple Glass plans to pursue true augmented reality, rather than purely showing floating 2D notifications in the lenses, they’ll probably require some connectivity to the iPhone. That way, the iPhone can do the actual video processing, keeping the onboard computing to a minimum in the glasses, themselves, much like the early models of the Apple Watch.
The iPhone could send back 3D imagery to the lenses at a high frame rate per second. Bluetooth wouldn’t make sense in that situation, because these bandwidths are too high for it to handle.
Battery life should probably be a minimum of three hours if Apple wants to be neck-and-neck competitive with the HoloLens 2 or Magic Leap 1. There’s always the possibility that Apple could extend that battery life with a special glasses charging case, similar to what the company has done with AirPods, thereby extending the battery life in a sense.
What Will They Look Like?
According to Tom’s Guide, Apple Glass marketing materials suggest that the spectacles will give off a Clark Kent-like vibe, but the prototypes reportedly look like an “un-intimidating” pair of plastic frames.
There’s a lidar scanner on the right side, most likely to help scan your surrounding environment to help overlay 3D images realistically, but so far no cameras (thank goodness).
Apparently, there are no plans to make the first run of Apple Glass in various tinted varieties, so if transition lenses or prescription sunglasses are your thing, you’ll have to wait even longer. But like the iPhone, there’s reason to believe you’ll see more choices over time.
When Will They Roll Out?
This answer is a bit of a mystery. Ming-Chi Kuo, a respected leaker of all things Apple, recently tweeted that he doesn’t believe Apple Glass will be available this year at the company’s September event. Instead, he thinks they’ll roll out in 2022.
But Jon Prosser, another expert Apple leaker who has had many correct predictions, says that Apple Glass should arrive by 2021. He believes that the company will announce the product before actually shipping them out, similarly to the Apple Watch in its earliest days.
But there’s a third possibility, based on a presentation shown internally at Apple, and leaked to The Information and Bloomberg. Those materials set a launch date in 2023. So long story short, nobody really knows when Apple Glass will roll out, but it will probably be within the next three years.
How Much Will They Cost?
The glasses will run you $499 at launch, plus the price of any additional prescription that the optical system has to account for, according to Prosser. That’s much cheaper than Microsoft’s Hololens 2, which costs a whopping $3,500. The low price probably has to do with the fact that there’s no onboard computer required—the iPhone will handle that.
What About Competitors?
At the moment, the main competitors in the smart glasses space include the Magic Leap 1, Spectacles by Snap, a new pair of Facebook glasses reportedly under development, the current version of Google Glass (the glasses are mostly for enterprise use), and the Hololens 2.
Amazon is also apparently in the fray, working on a new product called Echo Frames, which is currently under beta. They use the Alexa voice assistant to bring information to you, but don’t seem to rely on any holographic lenses or augmented reality.
None of the commercially available glasses have been breakaway hits so far, but it’s possible that Apple could change that and make smart glasses a new product category. After all, the company tends to take a more conservative approach to its product releases, often rolling out technology that other companies have already pursued, but with a more sleek and elegant design.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have a legion of devoted brand enthusiasts, ready to gobble up the product yesterday.