With the release of iOS 11, hundreds of millions of Apple devices gained the ability to perform basic augmented reality functions, albeit viewed through the screens of iPhones and iPads. While capable of providing some pretty useful and interesting apps, the next logical step for this early development of an AR app ecosystem invariably points to the future ahead: an Apple AR headset. According to a report by Bloomberg, that future might not be so distant.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, the report maintains Apple has definite plans to produce a dedicated AR headset, and could ship a product as early as 2020.

With Apple’s AR efforts led by ex-Dolby Executive VP Mike Rockwell, the group has now reportedly grown to several hundred engineers scattered across office parks in both Cupertino and Sunnyvale, CA, where the team is working on “several hardware and software projects” under the code name ‘T288’.

T288 encompasses a few important efforts, the report holds, including the creation of a purpose-built chip capable of powering the AR headset that’s similar in concept to the ‘system-on-a-package’ used in the Apple Watch.

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A new AR-focused operating system based on iOS called ‘rOS’ (‘r’ for reality) is also supposedly in the works, a project led by former Apple software manager for games and graphics Geoff Stahl.

That said, Apple reportedly hasn’t settled on a design yet and currently necessitates the use of an HTC Vive by its engineers for software design tasks. For the purposes of internal testing, Apple is also producing a head-mounted AR headset similar in design to Samsung’s Gear VR headset, but using an iPhone to drive AR interactions. Apple doesn’t plan to sell the headset though, and will likely only use it for testing purposes.

Because basically nothing is finalized at this point, it’s uncertain how users will control the headset and launch apps, however the company is investigating touch panels, voice-activation via Siri and head gestures, the report maintains. As for applications, engineers are prototyping a range of apps encompassing everything from mapping and texting to virtual meeting rooms and 360-degree video playback.

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In the interim, Apple wants to make it easier for developers to create for its fledgling AR app ecosystem by releasing a new version of ARKit software tools as soon as 2018.

Apple declined to comment on any of the above information.

Publicly, Apple CEO Tim Cook says there are still plenty of challenges to consider before the company would release an AR headset though, speaking with The Independent.

“The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face – there’s huge challenges with that. The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it’s not there yet,” he says. “We don’t give a rat’s about being first, we want to be the best, and give people a great experience. But now anything you would see on the market any time soon would not be something any of us would be satisfied with. Nor do I think the vast majority of people would be satisfied.”

Wherever you land on the company politically, one thing is certain; Apple is normalizing the AR headset, and you can bet they’ll make it easy enough for everyone’s mom and dad to use.

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  • Great to know… this means that according to Apple, in 2020 will be possible to create a AR headset that is easy to be used and has a nice design

  • Darshan

    Hmmm… great news this means other companies may keep on selling their non customer friendly things till Apple AR HMD arrive… they may keep on doing so as even after arrival of Apple AR for very long time as APPLE AR HMD will be horrendously overpriced..

  • It will compete with Hololens and similar but aimed at consumers too.

    Apple will keep investing heavily into AR as they have a lot to lose when it comes to replacing mobiles with AR devices, which I feel is inevitable down the road so they will make it work beyond what we expect.

    For Apple this could be the break. I mean Windows PC’s have dominated the gaming and business industry due to the massive range of customisation we can do with modular PC’s. AR is the next evolution of desktop/mobile computing and Apple are in a strong position to dominate it, that is why I think they have to date, not rushed.

    Imagine an AR device that can replace your mobile phone, replace your tablet, replace your laptop and replace your office desktop PC. Not only that it could replace your TV too. The Apple chips are getting very quick these days, that iPhone X processor is insane and reports of it being faster (on paper) than a new Mac Pro laptop. So an Apple based AR device could also replace last gen gaming consoles. The markets that AR/VR span is huge.

    I have said previously that Apple competitors have not had much to worry about on the desktop side but AR will change that landscape. Microsoft Hololens (still business only), Microsoft Store (a poor version of the App Store) and Mixed Reality partners (all rushed to market imo) really need to collaborate together much better in order to compete with what Apple brings in just 2 years time or this will end up like an iPod moment.

  • Jack Liddon

    Nice to see everyone jumping on the AR/VR bandwagon! No more holdouts!

  • sfmike

    And it will cost more and be behind the rest technologically. But the Apple cult will be impressed.

    • Cost more than what? who is this “rest” you mention? There is only a handful like Hololens and they cost 3 to 5 thousand and do half a job. If you think Apple would produce something for AR that costs more than 5k and is behind the curve then I think you will be very mistaken.

      • Reels Rihard

        No he’s not incorrect about Apple. Apple delivering something technologically competitive from the start, would be astonishing.

        • Like the iPod or the iWatch or the 5K iMac which are all a generation or two ahead of the catch-ups. How about Time Machine, a backup system that is unparalleled to date. You can pick and choose what they do but they do innovate. Then there is iOS vs Android, as software not device, iOS is more stable, less hacked and more polished. The iPad too. No other tablet is as a powerful, and yes you pay for that privilege. The iPhone is a grey area with innovation stolen or bought from others but the original iPhone 3G was a breakthrough device.

        • Peter Gao

          It is extremely tiring to consistently see comments like this, especially when apple is currently the company that manufactures the the fastest mobile cpu/gpu to date, with single core performances years beyond android flagships. I don’t think it is fair to just compare every tech with its performance to price ratio, because no matter which field we are talking about the cost to performance ratio will always be represented as a logarithmic graph, with consumers ended up paying less than what they can get if they purchase parts off the shelf. I don’t see nike shoes being twice as comfortable as a conventional pair of shoes, or porsches being twice as luxury as a toyota. But the market exists and individuals are willing to pay for the experience.

    • Reels Rihard

      Correct

  • Shawn Runewell

    This is good news. Apple controls most aspects of their hardware and software so this may be exactly what’s needed for a mainstream AR headset. The Apple ecosystem will likely amplify the AR market and competition as a whole and be a win/win for everyone who wants this space to grow.

  • As to the software….

    Siri will be a huge floating futuristic head made out of light shafts that does all the cloud processing for you, voice recognition, voice calling, and general servant to your bidding.

    The device will have facial recognition for your contacts and show relevant floating info above an identified head, e.g. Birthday today and other info they share on social media will flash up.

    Full tracking and awareness of your location including GPS. Always on camera for crime prevention (Black mirror style) that you can rewind and say “No, you really did say that a few minutes ago!” removing the need for car dash cams and cctv as everybody will be a walking cctv unit.

    Lie detection algorithms based on eye dilation, mannerisms etc of the person you are talking to.

    The ability to share what you see with another person. You could ask Siri to phone the police and let them see what you see for example.

    Endless scary and interesting uses.

    • RFC_VR

      Perhaps the biggest gain for everyday people will be a shift back to situational awareness.

      If you watch many people in cities they are completely distracted by their smartphones. I’ve watched someone squat on the edge of a sidewalk for several minutes tapping at their phone whilst pedestrians tried to get past. Or suddenly stop and stand holding their phone infront of them oblivious to everything around. We had 150 phone snatch robberies by motorbike gangs in our London borough last month alone – people having phones snatched out of their hands whilst distracted by content.

      After one of the recent Terror attacks in London, a respected special forces advisor remarked about the “digital bubble” people are ensconced in, and how it’s best to get out of it.

      overlay AR glasses would immediately shift focus from looking 45 degrees down at 6″ screen and being vulnerable, to being able to walk around normally with proper situational awareness and increased safely from law enforcement warnings being presented in real time.

      • Of course, good points. I hate to see the london moped gangs running amok, really frustrates me that they are so brazen and now throwing acid in pizza delivery guys faces!

        There are so many apps that could apply to AR that change our lives in different ways, the example you gave is huge. The same can be applied to drivers who use their phones. It is going to be a tough one to govern.

        Driving laws will need a change. I guess an AR device can switch to a driver mode that visually mutes all non essential apps. I imagine a certain entitlement (developer term to let Apple products use certain features of a device) that you, as a developer must justify very carefully as to why your App needs vehicle support to get it approved on the store. But then again Apple would not want a part in this legal grey area as it is different for different countries. Who and how is that governed.

        Another idea is a car could send its dash display to your AR device instead, much like your example, now the user never needs to look anywhere else but at the road, or at least mirror parts of it like speed and navigation. If the devices have depth sensing then you have an early warning system too. Cars could even have thermal built into them so you get a mini night vision window in the corner of your view. I would love that seen as our councils keep switching street lighting off to save money!

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9y3kSvrXYmA

  • Richard Hoffmann

    Sounds exciting. I am very intrigued how this will look like. I know to many of my friends who still complain about the screen resolution (Screen-door effect) of current VR devices. Well you can’t satisfy everyone yet. And I also observed that some are reluctant to put a heavy HMD on, so it has to be ultra lightweight like sunglasses. Not sure if I would ever poke something like contact lenses HUDs into my eyes in 2025 or so. We’ll see…

  • Da Mo (JFlash)

    Wow that EARLY, if it was a housewarming party, the owners could of had 5 children and moved 3 times.

    • sergiohs

      I thought same way, that incredibly EARLY !! hahahaha really, it’s incredible.

  • Sounds like fun, you are working on the future!. Computer vision can get pretty complicated if you are coding routines yourself. I had a stab at something using OpenCV a few years back for a concept. It got too complicated in the end so I abandoned it in favour of something more manageable lol. Speaking of always on street sensors, Years ago I worked for a company that did research into a smart cat’s eye (the reflectors in the middle of the road). Not only could they detect speed but they could tell if your tyre tread was below legal limits as you drove past them! Not sure where that product went, it was 10 years ago now.

    • RFC_VR

      Sounds interesting! Currently looking at Myriad 2 VPU technology…

      • Just watched youtube “The Myriad 2 Vision Processing Unit”, learnt something new! even if that was from 2015 :-)