Latest reports point to 2020 release for Apple AR headset
22 October 2019 | 0
We’ve heard rumours that Apple has been working on some kind of augmented reality headset for years now, and those rumours have started building steam. Certain builds of iOS 13 are packed with references to what looks like AR headsets, either in the form of glasses or a face-mounted display like the Google Daydream (or both).
The most credible rumours suggest we may see whatever Apple’s been working on within a matter of months, and so we’ve compiled those reports in one handy spot so you’ll know what to expect.
Apple’s AR glasses may appear in 2020
On 19 October, Bloomberg released a report claiming that Apple had “targeted” 2020 for the release of an AR headset, although no specifics about the date were given beyond that. This suggests Apple is on track with the project, as Bloomberg claimed we could see the headset in 2020 all the way back in 2017.
Well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo was more specific about the timing, as he claimed we’d likely see Apple’s AR glasses sometime in the second quarter of 2020, echoing a similar prediction of his from March.
Code in iOS 13 and Xcode 11 strongly suggests the existence of an AR headset
In early September, MacRumors revealed that a leaked internal build of iOS 13 comes with the ‘Startester’ app that allows a developer to use an iPhone to see how an app might look with a handheld and head-mounted display for testing an augmented reality headset. In late September, a developer on Twitter named xSnow managed to get Startester to work.
Elsewhere, a readme file in iOS 13 refers to a ‘StarBoard’ system shell for apps that support stereo AR. IOS 13’s code refers to StarBoard mode in other spots, with some such as ‘ARStarBoardViewController’ and ‘ARStarBoardSceneManager’ explicitly reference augmented reality.
Not long after that, 9to5Mac’s Guilherme Rambo posted a tweet revealing that Xcode 11 (Apple’s integrated development environment) had an ARDisplayDevice framework that included references to the headsets under development, which are codenamed Franc, Luck, and Garta (although Garta appears to be aimed at HoloKit, a third party AR box). References to StarBoard were found in Xcode as well.
In addition, game developer Steve Troughton-Smith discovered that the framework for game controllers in iOS 13 has a profile for devices running stereo AR apps, which includes a trackpad, a trigger button, and a home button – suggesting Apple may make a controller for use with its AR headset.
iPhone will likely handle most of the processing
In his March report (via the Economic Daily News), Ming-Chi Kuo echoed rumours dating back to 2016 by claiming by Apple is designing its AR glasses as an iPhone accessory, so the iPhone itself would end up wirelessly handling most of the processing, positioning, and other roles.
The glasses themselves would mainly act as a display, allowing them to remain lightweight, possibly stylish, and less awkward-looking than devices than AR headsets that include all the relevant systems in the headset itself (like the Microsoft HoloLens). The earliest Apple Watches worked much like this.
Steve Troughton-Smith lent further and recent credence to this rumour in a tweet from September after poking through the grand master for iOS 13.
“The picture of Apple’s AR efforts from iOS 13 is very different to what one might expect,” Troughton-Smith said. “It points to the headset being a much more passive display accessory for iPhone than a device with an OS of its own. The iPhone seems to do everything; ARKit is the compositor.”
Operating system for the AR headset may be called ‘rOS’
Way back in 2017, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that Apple’s AR headsets would likely run a custom operating system called ‘rOS,’ which stands for ‘reality operating system’. At the time, Apple was reportedly still trying to figure out how users would actually control the headset and launch apps.
Apple is experimenting with several different kinds of AR headsets
The AR glasses are commanding the rumour spotlight right now, but rumours have persisted for years that Apple is actually working on a number of AR (or AR/VR) devices. Back in 2017, the Financial Times [paywalled] claimed Apple was working on “several different kinds” of headsets. One of these resembled Snapchat’s Spectacles in that the glasses had a built-in camera but no screen, so you’d end up using the phone as the actual display.
In April of 2018, CNet published a more exciting rumour claiming that Apple was working on a combination AR/VR headset codenamed T288 that boasted a resolution of 8K for each eye. Unlike many other virtual reality headsets, it wouldn’t need exterior sensors to determine tracking. It was a beast, too, as it used 60GHz WiGig technology to wirelessly connect the headset to a dedicated box sporting a 5-nanometer custom Apple processor that was more powerful than anything on the market.
We haven’t head much more about the T288 since. In July, DigiTimes released a report claiming that Apple had temporarily stopped making AR/VR headsets and reassigned members of the teams to other projects. This news was met with some skepticism at the time, and sure enough, more Apple-related augmented reality rumours started to pop up not long after that suggested research was still underway. It’s therefore not clear if there was any truth to DigiTimes’ report, but if there is, it’s possible that Apple may have ceased work on the other headsets and thrown all its energy behind the glasses instead.
IDG News Service