8K displays, eye-tracking for Apple’s AR glasses, are coming, report claims

Yet more reports concerning Apple’s biggest top secret projects (that everyone knows about) — Apple Car and Apple’s AR mixed-reality headset — appeared this week. Apple watchers are looking at interesting times ahead.…

Your life on television

The Information claims to have seen internal Apple images of a late-stage prototype from 2020 and has published a raft of claims concerning the company’s mixed-reality headset plans. And while they will be deeply alluring to consumer markets, enterprise users must also pay attention.

We know Apple has been working on this for years, but some highlights in this latest report include:

  • Over a dozen cameras for tracking hand movement and for showing video of the surroundings.
  • UHD 8K displays.
  • Advanced eye-tracking technology. (This has been reported before.)
  • Controls may extend to gesture and eye movements.
  • Priced around $3,000.
  • Not coming this year – report claims 2022.
  • And this thing may never ship at all, the report warns.

Physically, these devices may have a curved visor, wrap to your face with some form of mesh, and boast swappable headbands. Reading between the lines, it sounds as if you’ll be able to wear these things in daily life, experiencing your surroundings in some kind of on-screen video feed.

The report has claimed some form of Digital Crown device on these goggles. I imagine this may be necessary to adjust the focus of these glasses so they can be adjusted to suit people’s vision – lots of people are far- and near-sighted, after all.

The report doesn’t make such a claim, but it’s hard not to imagine it. And if you can adjust these glasses to suit your vision, at what point in the technology development journey might they replace spectacles?

Accessibility

For me, one way to comprehend what this device may be capable of is to explore all the Accessibility features Apple likes to draw our attention to. These award-winning tools enable many groups of users to interact with technology that they may have been unable to use in the absence of accessibility. Think of things like Switch Control and Apple’s powerful Voice Control and put them inside glasses, for example. Add a little eye-tracking (making use of technologies acquired with SensoMotoric Instruments, perhaps) and gesture control to the mix and you can see how critical a part Apple’s accessibility technologies may play in this particular augmented reality plan.

Accessibility tech can be applied in many ways.

Consider an AI solution that translates street signs and the written word, for example: Not only is Siri becoming capable of some of this, but pack them inside glasses and automatically dictate them and you’ll be in complete control of your journey wherever in the world you go. It’s almost as if Apple designed the glasses used by Geordi La Forge, though not quite yet a Mac you wear.

Enterprise opportunity?

Every enterprise should begin to redouble efforts around Augmented Reality.

First, as society remains locked down and people’s personal habits change in response to COVID-19, augmented experiences are likely to become more important going forward. This is particularly true for education, though many other sectors (health, human resources and more) are likely to find uses in this space.

Combine immersive AR experiences such as those suggested by The Information’s report with robotics and you get a bundle of additional real-world use case scenarios. Many of these uses remain to be unlocked by the enterprises and developers who first figure out how to service these emerging needs.

The second reason reflects changing habits. Most of us spend hours glued to our smartphones, and this seems unlikely to change soon. Apple’s glasses (which will no doubt ship with a warning not to wear them beyond a certain length of time) will almost certainly attract a lot of users in whatever we find becoming the post-COVID commuter belt, as workers indulge themselves in alternative, immersive experiences on their way to and from work.

That may only amount to approximately one hour a day, but enterprises who figure out how to occupy a few seconds of that space will make some money.

(The eminently personal nature of these experiences is also yet another great reason to ensure we can make use of these solutions in private, without being tracked. I really don’t want Facebook to analyze and profit from knowing what I cast my eye upon. It has no right to that information.)

Experience tells us that when Apple whispers, the industry listens. And while it now seems unlikely the company will be telling us too much about its plans at WWDC 2021 when that event inevitably streams online, most developers and enterprises with an interest in the space will pay careful attention to whatever Apple does want to tell us about ARKit, machine vision intelligence and AI, and any improvements in its ecosystem-wide accessibility tools.

That’s going to be important information to inform development plans across the coming year as we wend our way inexorably to Apple’s wearable reveal.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill group on MeWe.