Earlier today, Cult of Mac posted the most egregious rumour: Apple is apparently crafting a pair of special edition augmented reality glasses that will look like Steve Jobs’s moderately iconic ones. Apple will then reportedly sell these glasses for money. The claim comes from Jon Prosser, a YouTuber who has made waves in the last few months with some incredibly accurate predictions regarding Apple’s business. I’m sorry, everyone. This is bullshit.
To be clear, I do not have privileged knowledge of Apple’s AR glasses project. I have reached out to Apple for comment, but the company does not comment on future products, so don’t your breath for either a confirmation or denial. But it’s a well-documented rumour that Apple is developing a pair of AR glasses for consumers, and it’s no secret that Apple glasses – in whatever form they take – are expected in the first half of this decade. Last year, a form of stereoscopic AR was discovered in the code for iOS, spawning rumours of an impending release date. However, nothing else has materialised but more rumours.
Last week, Prosser teased that he’d actually seen a pair of Apple’s glasses and said they would be shown off in the summer of 2021 (around the time of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference). He even claimed he’d soon show off the UI for the glasses. This week, he teased the glasses more, but when his video finally appeared, the proof was... missing. He said he was holding it until his lawyers gave the go-ahead.
Instead, he packaged known rumours, including that the AR OS is codenamed Starboard, with new tantalising nuggets: the glasses will use LiDAR instead of traditional cameras, the price will start at $500, and they will be released in late 2021 or early 2022.
The LiDAR claim in particular seems to hold water. Apple made a big show of including LiDAR in this year’s iPad Pro specifically for AR purposes. LiDAR captures spatial information instead of visual information, so it would be a neat trick to get around privacy concerns (though it would still be able to capture plenty of information that may leave the privacy-focused consumer wary).
But there is a big and incredibly crucial element of the AR glasses puzzle that remains missing. How the heck are these glasses going to project information that you can see? Microsoft’s Hololens 2 and the Magic Leap headset both create decently immersive AR environments with a field of view about the size of four postage stamps and need to be stupidly enormous and silly looking to even pull that off. North produces a pair of AR glasses that look, to the average person, like a regular pair of glasses. But the image the user sees is decidedly 2D – nothing like the big AR set-pieces Apple likes to show off. And the field of view on North’s glasses is even smaller than on the Hololens and Magic Leap – it takes up just a tiny amount of space on a single lens.
Way back in 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook told The Independent that the projector technology was a big reason Apple hadn’t launched a pair of AR glasses yet:
The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it’s not there yet,” he says. And as with all of its products, Apple will only ship something if it feels it can do it “in a quality way.”
“We don’t give a rat’s about being first, we want to be the best, and give people a great experience,” he says. “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.”
Unfortunately, very little has changed on that front. AR glasses still need to be reasonably chunky to pack in even a tiny projector, like the one found in the Focals by North. A lot of fiddling has to be done to calibrate AR glasses to a person’s vision, too.
No one has effectively solved those problems yet – although Apple, with its billions, certainly has the cash to throw at it. But Apple isn’t in the business of creating a whole new technology for its products. Landmark achievements like the iPhone, iPod, and even the Apple Watch are built on the backs of other innovators. Apple has an incredible knack for packaging new technology into a design that anyone can pick up and use, but the technology has to actually exist.
You should keep all of that in mind when you consider the positively bullshit claim that Apple is making a pair of glasses fashioned after Steve Job’s thin frames and sold as a heritage edition in his name.
First, there’s the sheer tackiness of the concept. Then there’s just the technical implausibility. The technology does not exist to pack all the necessary components for AR glasses into something as small as the frames worn by Jobs. That means the glasses would need to be a lot bulkier. A lot bulkier. That takes us back to the tacky factor. I mean, I know former Apple design chief Jony Ives isn’t involved in the day to day still, but are you shitting me?!
Prosser’s track record of the past few months may give some credence to the rumour of an imminent AR glasses launch, but the Steve Jobs 2.0 design feels a bridge too far for me. And Mark Gurman, a Bloomberg reporter with one of the most consistent records on Apple leaks in the business, concurs.
Do I even need to say that this (along with the rest of the Apple AR glasses stories in the past week) is complete fiction? https://t.co/oLK3VVbz8H
— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) May 21, 2020
Prosser has since doubled down, claiming that he’ll see Gurman “next year.” But my money’s on Gurman, who, alongside noted analyst Ming Chi-Kuo, predict that Apple’s AR glasses will launch in 2022 at the absolute earliest (which prompted Prosser’s AR leakfest).
Featured image: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)