Apple is working to have an augmented reality headset developed by 2019 and shipped out to consumers as early as 2020, Bloomberg reports. Previous rumors have revealed that Apple has hundreds of engineers working on AR applications and has developed multiple prototypes for AR glasses, and some bolder bloggers have even speculated that a partnership with Zeiss would lead to a viable product coming out this year. But Tim Cook has thrown cold water on the idea that the technology is anywhere near ready for Apple to ship a product to consumers, saying, “Today I can tell you the technology itself doesn’t exist to do that in a quality way. 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.”
This latest report provides a better picture of where Apple is at in the development process, trying to get away from the traditional model of using a smartphone as the screen and engine. Instead Apple is trying to create a device that has its own display, powered by its own on-board chip and run its own operating system. The new operating system — dubbed “rOS” for “reality operating system” — is based on iOS, but Apple is far from finalizing how users will control the device, investigating voice control through Siri, head gestures and touch panels as possibilities. The chip itself is another challenge, with Apple’s recent efforts at putting the maximum amount of processing power into the smallest possible space — first in the Apple Watch and most recently in the iPhone X — still not up to the challenge of being small enough to power a pair of glasses without being too bulky.
Sources said the 2020 launch timeline is “very aggressive” and is subject to change, and Chief Design Officer Jony Ive admitted to a tech panel last month that “there are certain ideas that we have and we are waiting for the technology to catch up with the idea.” Apple engineers are using HTC Vive headsets to test their ideas for a wide range of applications, from mapping and texting to more futuristic things like virtual meeting rooms and 360-degree video feeds. The company is also using its own devices for testing purposes, but doesn’t plan to ship any of its current gear to consumers. In his comments about Apple’s future in AR glasses, Cook said Apple doesn’t make a habit of rushing to be first if that means delivering a sub par product and doesn’t intend to start now. “Now anything you would see on the market any time soon would not be something any of us would be satisfied with,” Cook said, adding, “Nor do I think the vast majority of people would be satisfied.”