Apple has been exploring virtual reality and augmented reality technologies for almost 20 years based on patent filings, but with virtual and augmented reality exploding in popularity with the launch of ARKit, Apple’s dabbling is growing more serious and is expected to lead to an AR/VR product in 2022 or 2023.
There is a research unit within Apple with hundreds of employees working on AR and VR and exploring ways the emerging technologies could be used in future Apple products. AR/VR hiring has ramped up over the last several years, and Apple has acquired multiple AR/VR companies as it furthers its work in the AR/VR space.
Apple is working on at least two AR projects that include an augmented reality headset set to be released in late 2022 or 2023 followed by a sleeker pair of augmented reality glasses coming at a later date. The two projects have caused some confusion over what’s coming when, but it’s now clear that an AR/VR (or mixed reality) headset will be released, followed by augmented reality glasses.
Rumors initially suggested that Apple’s AR/VR headset would come out at some point in 2022, perhaps at WWDC in June, but there are development issues that Apple needs to overcome. At this point, it’s looking like we won’t see the AR/VR headset until late 2022 or 2023.
Reliable sources like Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman have indicated that the headset will likely see a 2023 launch date, with the glasses to follow in 2024 or 2025.
The AR/VR headset that Apple has in the works will be a standalone device with powerful A-series processors that will put performance on par with Apple’s Macs. It will have two chips inside that will allow it to perform complex tasks and handle the virtual reality capabilities, plus it will be able to operate independently of an iPhone or a Mac.
Design wise, the headset will look similar to other headsets on the market like the Facebook Oculus Quest, but it will feature a sleeker design and a lightweight build to ensure comfort. Two high-resolution micro OLED displays with up to 3,000 pixels per inch will provide an immersive viewing experience, and there may also be an extra display at the side for peripheral vision.
Apple is building more than a dozen cameras into the headset to track hand movements and gestures, which will be one method of control along with eye tracking. Apple may also include worn input devices, one of which may resemble a thimble worn on the finger.
Multiple 3D-sensing modules will be included for detecting hand gestures and objects that are around the wearer, and it will support voice control, skin detection, spatial detection, and expression detection. Along with an immersive video experience, the headset will also use spatial audio for immersive audio.
Apple is designing an App Store for the headset, and content will focus on gaming, streaming video, and video conferencing. It will run “rOS,” a new operating system designed specifically for the headset.
As the AR/VR headset is an entirely new product category adopting cutting-edge technology, it’s not going to be cheap. Rumors suggest it could be priced over $2,000.
The headset will focus on VR with some limited AR capabilities, but Apple has deeper augmented reality ambitions. After the AR/VR headset, Apple is expected to come out with a set of augmented reality glasses that will look similar to standard glasses but with AR capabilities.
Apple’s first headset will support both AR and VR capabilities, technology that’s usually referred to as “mixed reality.” Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are similar technologies, but their potential applications vary significantly.
Virtual reality refers to a full immersive experience in a virtual world, while augmented reality refers to a modified view of the real world. With a VR experience, the real world is largely shut out to focus on an entirely virtual experience, but augmented reality overlays virtual elements on your real-world view.
Google Glass, a Google product that’s now largely defunct, is an example of a head-worn augmented reality device, while the Oculus and PlayStation VR are examples of head-worn virtual reality devices. Apple is working on both of these technologies, but the initial product will be more similar to the Oculus than Google Glass.
Virtual reality is singularly focused on immersive content consumption because it makes the wearer feel as if they’re actually experiencing what’s going on in the simulated world through visual, tactile, and audio feedback. Virtual reality is linked to gaming right now, but it also has the potential to recreate real world experiences for educational or training purposes.
Augmented reality doesn’t hinge on immersive content and while less exciting because it’s augmenting reality instead of replacing it, it has a wider range of potential applications and it is the technology that Apple ultimately seems to be most interested in. Apple’s headset will support both AR and VR, which is called mixed reality, and it’s something we’ve seen in products like Microsoft’s HoloLens.
Mixed reality merges real-world content and virtual content to produce new environments where physical and digital objects can be viewed and interacted with together. In practice, we don’t quite yet know what exact kind of experience Apple’s headset will provide, but we can count on immersive games, more interactive FaceTime and chat experiences, and new learning tools.
Apple’s AR/VR headset will look similar to some other VR headsets on the market, featuring a design that’s not too far off from the Facebook Oculus Quest virtual reality headset. Several of the design details have been revealed in rumors, and The Information even saw a prototype so we have a good idea of what to expect.
The headset will use fabrics and lightweight materials to ensure a comfortable fit. It has been described as having a “sleek, curved visor attached to the face by a mesh material and swappable headbands.” The renders below from designer Ian Zelbo are based on these headset descriptions.
A band in the back that’s made of a material similar to an Apple Watch band will hold the headset on the wearer’s head, and a soft mesh will make the fit comfortable against the front of the face. Headbands are swappable, and come with size adjustment options.
One headband allegedly features spatial audio technology like the AirPods Pro for a surround-sound like experience, while another provides additional battery life while on the go. The headset would also be able to respond to the wearer’s eye movements and hand gestures, while one prototype of the headset also featured a physical dial on the visor’s side.
The design blocks out peripheral vision to prevent light from leaking into the wearer’s field of view, and it’s possible there will be an outward-facing visor for showing graphics to others.
Current headset prototypes are said to weigh around 200 to 300 grams, but Apple is aiming to reduce the final weight to 100 to 200 grams if technical problems can be solved, which would make the headset lighter than
Rumors suggest the AR/VR headset will have two to three displays. There will be two high-resolution 4K micro OLED displays with up to 3,000 pixels per inch. Sony is expected to supply the display modules that Apple will use.
Micro OLED displays are built directly on to chip wafers rather than a glass substrate, which results in displays that are thinner, smaller, and more power efficient. They allow for pixel sizes in the range of four to 20 micrometers, compared to 40 to 300 micrometers with standard OLED panels, plus they have a faster microseconds response time, making them ideal for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications.
There may also be a third AMOLED display, which would be lower quality. It’s possible that Apple will use the AMOLED display for for peripheral vision where a lower resolution would be acceptable.
Apple is using “Pancake” lenses that will allow for a thin and lightweight design. Pancake lenses are more expensive than the Fresnel lens technology used for other VR headsets, but will result in a much thinner device.
Because of the close fit of the headset to the face, users will not be able to wear glasses, so there may be an option for prescription lenses to be inserted over the screens.
The headset will feature more than a dozen optical cameras for tracking hand movements, mapping the environment, and projecting visual experiences.
Eight camera modules will reportedly be used for see-through augmented reality experiences for the user, while another six modules will be used for “innovative biometrics.” One camera will also be available for environmental detection.
There will be a set of eye-detecting cameras that will allegedly allow users to “read small type” and see other people standing in front of and behind virtual objects.
The headset will be able to map surfaces, edges, and dimensions of rooms with accuracy.
Apple is exploring several input methods for the AR/VR headset, including hand gestures, eye-tracking, and input from a wearable device connected to the headset.
An advanced eye-tracking system is said to provide an intuitive visual experience that interacts seamlessly with the external environment, plus it will facilitate controls with eye movements. Iris recognition will be included as part of the eye-tracking system, which could be an authentication method.
There will be four 3D-sensing modules for detecting hand gestures and nearby objects through spatial detection, and the headset will also feature voice control and support for Siri commands. It will also detect skin and it might be able to monitor expression.
Apple is working on multiple control methods, including a “thimble-like device to be worn on a person’s finger.”
Two Mac-level processors will be included in the AR/VR headset for unprecedented computing power in a wearable device. The chips used for the headset are even more advanced than the Apple silicon chips that Apple is using for its Mac lineup, and Apple will reportedly adopt a 96W power adapter to charge the headset due to the powerful chips.
There will be a high-end main processor that’s similar to the M1 Pro chip that Apple debuted for its Apple silicon Macs last year, along with a lower-end processor for managing the sensor-related aspects of the device. One of these chips is a 4-nanometer chip, which is the latest TSMC technology, and the other is a 5-nanometer chip.
The headset will not be reliant on an iPhone or Mac for processing power, and it will feature independent power and storage.
Apple has completed work on the SoCs for the AR/VR headset, and will optimize for wireless data transmission, compressing and decompressing video, and power efficiency for maximum battery life, though they do not have a neural engine like some of Apple’s other chips.
Operating System. Hints of this naming have been found in Apple source code, so this is likely to be the name that Apple will go with.
Apple wants to create an App Store for the headset, with a focus on gaming, streaming video content, and video conferencing. It has been described by Bloomberg as an “all-encompassing 3-D digital environment” designed for gaming, media consumption, and communication. Apple may be planning to work with media partners to create content that can be watched in VR, and there could be a VR FaceTime-like experience with Animojis and other features.
When FaceTiming someone, instead of seeing their actual face, you might instead see a 3D Memoji-character version of them. The headset would be able to read facial expressions and features, matching that in real time for a lifelike chatting experience. SharePlay, the feature introduced in iOS 15, may also be heavily integrated, and the headset is expected to integrate with existing Apple services like Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade.
Apple’s upcoming mixed reality headset will offer WiFi 6E support, which is the latest WiFi specification. Apple is said to be planning to implement WiFi 6E to provide a high-end, immersive experience with solid wireless connectivity. WiFi 6E has all of the benefits of WiFi 6 but adds 6GHz spectrum in addition to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands for increased bandwidth and less interference between devices.
Apple’s AR/VR headset could be facing yet another delay, as Apple is facing development issues that need to be overcome. According to Bloomberg, Apple has pushed back the release plans for the headset several times now. Apple originally planned to launch the headset in 2021 and ship it in 2022, and then delayed that until the 2022 WWDC.
Now it’s unlikely that we’re going to get a glimpse of the headset at this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference because Apple has yet to solve several problems. With the high-powered processor inside, the headset is overheating, and there are also problems with the camera and the software.
At least one of the chips designed for the headset is on par with the M1 Pro from the latest MacBook Pro models, and the thermal demands of the chip are causing problems with heat dissipation.
Apple is considering delaying the launch of the AR/VR headset until late 2022 or 2023, and the company’s supply chain partners have been told that it is unlikely to be released until 2023. Apple is, however, pushing vendors to have units available by the end of 2022.
With the delay, Apple is planning to focus on the headset during the 2023 Worldwide Developers Conference. Apple will encourage developers to start building augmented and virtual reality apps for the “rOS” App Store.
Apple has been working on augmented and virtual reality technologies for a long time now, and the company has a huge team of employees developing headworn AR/VR products. It’s believed that in the future, AR/VR devices will replace the iPhone, something that could happen as soon as 10 years from now.
The iPhone is Apple’s most profitable and important product, so that AR/VR headset technology will replace the iPhone gives us some idea of how key it is to Apple’s future.
Rumors suggest that the original headset design included a fan and powerful processors, but the device was too heavy. Early designs also would have required the headset to use the processing power of a connected iPhone or Mac, but Apple has changed the design and added high-end chips to the headset itself.
Early prototypes were described as having an 8K display for each eye, and there was one rumor that said the headset would connect to “dedicated box” using a high-speed short-range wireless technology called 60GHz WiGig. The box would be powered by a custom 5-nanometer Apple processor that’s “more powerful than anything currently available.” The box apparently resembles a PC tower, but it “won’t be an actual Mac computer.”
Internal disagreements shaped and changed Apple’s goals for its AR headset over time, and rumors suggest that Apple did not go with the “box” design because former Apple designer Jony Ive did not want to sell a device that would require a separate, stationary addition for full functionality.
Ive wanted a headset with less powerful technology that could be embedded directly in the device, but the leader of the AR/VR team, Mike Rockwell, wanted the more powerful device. It was a standoff that lasted for months, and Tim Cook ultimately sided with Ive, changing the direction of Apple’s headset design.
Pricing on the headset could start somewhere around $3,000, which will make it much more expensive than an iPhone. To start with, it won’t be aimed at general consumers, but will instead be positioned as a device for developers, content creators, and professionals.
Apple expects to sell just one headset per day per retail store, and it has told suppliers that it expects sales of seven to 10 million units during the first year of availability.
Apple was initially targeting WWDC 2022 as the unveiling date for the AR/VR headset, but due to the issues outlined above, it’s now looking like the earliest we might see the headset is late 2022, with 2023 perhaps being even more likely.
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes the headset will see a late 2022 or 2023 launch, and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman recently said that while Apple was targeting mid-2022 for an unveiling, that’s now been pushed back to the end of the year or 2023.
According to DigiTimes, Apple in February reportedly finished key production tests (EVT 2) for its AR/VR headset, ensuring that prototype units are able to meet Apple’s design goals and specifications. DigiTimes believes that the headset will enter mass production in the August-September timeframe, with a launch to happen before the end of the year, but that is not in agreement with some of the other rumors that we’ve heard.
Many members of Apple’s AR/VR team may have joined the company though acquisitions. Since 2015, Apple has purchased several companies that created AR/VR-related products, and some of its AR/VR acquisitions even date back several years.
Apple in August 2018 bought Akonia Holographics, a startup that makes lenses for augmented reality glasses. Akonia Holographics advertises the “world’s first commercially available volume holographic reflective and waveguide optics for transparent display elements in smart glasses.”
The displays that it makes are said to use the company’s HoloMirror technology for “ultra-clear, full-color performance” to enable the “thinnest, lightest head worn displays in the world.”
In November of 2017, Apple purchased Vrvana, a company that developed a mixed reality headset called Totem. Totem, which was never released to the public, was designed to combine both augmented and virtual reality technologies in a single headset, merging full VR capabilities with pass-through cameras to enable screen-based augmented reality features.
Totem essentially used a set of cameras to project real-world images into its built-in 1440p OLED display, a somewhat unique approach that set it apart from competing products like Microsoft’s HoloLens, which uses a transparent display to combine virtual and augmented reality. Apple could be planning to use some of Totem’s technology in a future product.
Apple purchased Israeli-based 3D body sensing firm PrimeSense in 2013, sparking speculation that motion-based capabilities would be implemented into the Apple TV. PrimeSense’s 3D depth technology and motion sensing capabilities were used in Microsoft’s initial Kinect platform.
PrimeSense used near-IR light to project an invisible light into a room or a scene, which is then read by a CMOS image sensor to create a virtual image of an object or person. This enables motion-based controls for software interfaces, but it’s also able to do things like measure virtual objects and provide relative distances or sizes, useful for augmented reality applications like interactive gaming, indoor mapping, and more. PrimeSense technology can also create highly accurate 360 degree scans of people and objects, potentially useful for virtual reality applications.
Apple acquired augmented reality startup Metaio in May of 2015. Metaio built a product called the Metaio Creator, which could be used to create augmented reality scenarios in just a few minutes. Prior to being purchased by Apple, Metaio’s software was used by companies like Ferrari, who created an augmented reality showroom.
Metaio technology was also used in Berlin to allow people visiting the site of the Berlin Wall to use a smartphone or tablet to see what the area looked like when the Berlin Wall was still standing. Metaio’s technology is one that could potentially be used to implement augmented reality capabilities into Apple apps like Maps.
Apple acquired Faceshift in August of 2015, marking its second augmented reality purchase in 2015. Before being acquired by Apple, Faceshift worked with game and animation studios on technology designed to quickly and accurately capture facial expressions using 3D sensors, transforming them into animated faces in real time. Faceshift was also working on a consumer-oriented product that would allow people to morph their faces into cartoon or monster faces in real time in Skype.
Faceshift’s technology has a wide range of possible use cases, and Apple appears to be using the feature to power Animoji in iPhones equipped with the front-facing TrueDepth camera system.
Emotient, a company that built tools for facial expression analysis, was acquired by Apple in January of 2016. Emotient’s technology uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to read human emotion, features that have been used in the real world by advertisers to determine emotional reactions to advertisements.
There are dozens of things Apple could do with Emotient, ranging from better facial detection in the Photos app to analyzing customer feelings in Apple retail stores to unlocking iOS devices, but it also has potential AR/VR uses. Like Faceshift, Emotient’s technology could be used to analyze and transform facial expressions for the creation of virtual avatars, useful for social media purposes and games. Emotient technology was likely used for Animoji.
Purchased in early 2016, Flyby Media is another company that worked on augmented reality. Flyby created an app that worked with Google’s 3D sensor-equipped “Project Tango” smartphone, allowing messages to be attached to real world objects and viewed by others with one of Google’s devices.
A look at the Flyby Messenger app before it was pulled from the App Store, via TechCrunch
For example, a person could “scan” a landmark like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and write a message attached to it. A person visiting the bridge later would then be able to scan the bridge with the Flyby app to see the message. The Flyby app likely drew the attention of Apple because it was able to recognize and understand different objects that were scanned, technology that could be used by Apple in a number of ways in apps like Photos and Maps.
In February of 2017, Apple purchased RealFace, a cybersecurity and machine learning company that specializes in facial recognition technology, which could potentially be used for future augmented reality features.
RealFace developed facial recognition technology integrating artificial intelligence for frictionless face recognition. RealFace technology was likely employed in the iPhone X, Apple’s first smartphone with facial recognition capabilities in the form of Face ID.
Apple in May 2020 acquired NextVR, a California-based company that combined virtual reality with sports, music, and entertainment, offering VR experiences for watching live events on VR headsets from PlayStation, HTC, Oculus, Google, Microsoft, and other manufacturers.
Apple in August 2020 purchased VR startup Spaces, a company that designed virtual reality experiences that people could experience in malls and other locations, such as “Terminator Salvation: Fight for the Future.” Spaces also created virtual reality experiences for video communication apps like Zoom, which is something that Apple could potentially incorporate into a future AR/VR product.
According to Taiwanese site DigiTimes, Apple is partnering with game developer Valve for its rumored AR headset. Valve released its first VR headset, Valve Index, in April 2019.
Valve previously worked with Apple to bring native VR headset support to macOS High Sierra, leveraging the eGPU support with a Mac version of the SteamVR software.
Apple has filed multiple patents that relate directly to a virtual reality headset, all dating back several years. While technology has likely advanced somewhat beyond these, they provide an interesting look at the ideas Apple has explored in the past.
A 2008 patent application covered a fairly basic “personal display system” designed to mimic the experience of being in a movie theater when watching video.
A second patent described a “Head Mounted Display System” with a “laser engine” that projected images onto a clear glass display worn over the eyes, similar to glasses. In this configuration, the headset connected to a handheld video player such as an iPod to provide processing power.
A third patent originally filed for in 2008 was similar in design, covering a goggle-like video headset designed to let users watch movies and other content. It outlined two adjustable optical modules lined up with the user’s eye, which could provide vision correction and allow for the viewing of 3D content. Apple described this as offering a personal media viewing experience.
A fourth patent from 2008 covered a video headset frame similar to the Google Glass, which would allow a user to slide their iPhone or iPod into the headset to provide video. The headset was described as an augmented reality product that would let users do things like watch a video or check email while keeping an eye on their surroundings.
Beyond headset-related patents, Apple has also filed for patents describing other ways virtual and augmented reality features could be implemented into its devices. A 2009 patent application, for example, covered camera-equipped 3D displays that would shift in perspective based on a user’s relative position.
Such a display would detect head movement, allowing a user to move their head around to look at a 3D image from different angles while also incorporating elements of a user’s environment.
2010 and 2012 patents described the use of motion sensors to create a 3D interface for iOS devices using augmented reality techniques. Apple described the interface as a “virtual room” navigated by manipulating the orientation of the device through built-in sensors or through gestures.
In 2011, Apple filed a patent for an augmented reality feature in the Maps app related to mapping the distance to notable landmarks. With the camera, a user could look at the area around them and get real-time estimations of the distance between two points along with overlays of relevant information.
A patent filed in 2014 and granted in 2017 covers a mobile augmented reality system able to detect objects in the environment and overlay them with virtual information through the use of cameras, a screen, and a user interface. Apple describes the system as ideal for a head-mounted display, but it also shows it being used in smartphones.
Apple has been working on virtual reality technology that could be used within autonomous vehicles. Several Apple patents describe a system that includes an in-car virtual reality system with a VR headset worn to provide entertainment and to mitigate carsickness from tasks like reading and working while a vehicle is in motion.
A July 2020 patent application covers possible input methods with Apple Glasses, describing a system where the glasses use infrared heat sensing to detect when someone touches a real-world object, allowing the glasses to then project controls onto a real-world surface.
With this method, the Apple Glasses could project in AR control interface onto any actual object in the real world for a mixed reality overlay kind of effect.
Apple in February 2021 filed a number of patents related to its work on a rumored mixed reality headset, with the patents covering design elements, lens adjustment, eye-tracking technology, and software.
Apple has developed several methods for making a headset more comfortable to wear while also keeping it secure and blocking out light, plus there’s a detailed lens-adjustment system that uses fluid to seamlessly shift the lenses to make the fit customized for each user.
Apple also details an eye-tracking system that uses infrared light to detect position, and there’s also a patent on how documents might be able to be edited in a virtual 3D space using the headset and gesture detection.
Apple has patented systems for recording video from a headset, where built-in gaze-tracking sensors could provide an indication of where a person is currently looking, which could direct a built-in camera to record the scene where the user’s eyes are positioned, instead of simply recording what is in front of the user.
Another patent application filed in February 2021 showed that Apple is researching a finger-mounted device with an array of sensors and haptic feedback to be used as a control device for a mixed-reality headset.
The control device has a shape that allows users to feel objects in their surroundings naturally and can precisely ascertain the way in which the user is moving their finger and interacting with surfaces. The system is said to be so accurate that it can detect how hard a user is pressing on a surface and the exact direction of this force, delivering haptic feedback in response.
Coupled with an AR or VR headset, Apple says that this finger-mounted device could “provide a user with the sensation of interacting on a physical keyboard when the user is making finger taps on a table surface” or “allow a user to supply joystick-type input” for gaming using only the movement of the user’s fingertips.
Though the first-generation AR/VR headset has yet to launch, Apple is already working on the second-generation version, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. The AR/VR headset coming in 2024 is expected to feature an updated design that’s lighter, plus it will have a new battery system and a faster processor.
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes that Apple could be planning augmented reality “contact lenses” that could launch sometime in the 2030s.
According to Kuo, the lenses will bring electronics from the era of “visible computing” to “invisible computing.” There is “no visibility” for the contact lenses at the current time, and it’s not a guaranteed product that Apple will develop.
Source : macrumors
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