Rumors about a new Apple device — smart glasses — have been buzzing since the start of the year. While the company, as usual, has been secretive about its upcoming products, recent developments like Apple’s recent purchases of eye-tracking company SMI have lent credence to the notion that we might see the Apple smart glasses in the future.
While Apple’s smart glasses idea might seem like a spin-off from the Snapchat Spectacles launched last year, that is not true. Apple actually filed a patent for a “head mounted display,” more than a decade back. The patent described how images could be projected to generate a peripheral display, which would create “an enhanced viewing experience.”
The device has started creating a buzz because recent supply chain leaks indicate it is being actively being worked upon. A leak by an alleged Foxconn employee indicated it might be equipped with a microphone, accelerometer and have in-built support for multiple functions like with apps such as Tinder and even voice calling. The person also revealed that Apple’s smart glasses would use a $150 acetate frame capable of supporting prescription glasses, with integrated light sensors.
From what we currently know about the rumored glasses, we can paint a picture of what the device could look like.
First and foremost, it seems quite far from being a simple device like the Snapchat Spectacles, which just captures short videos and uploads them to Snapchat. One of the foremost features of the devices could be augmented reality (AR) capabilities. At the World Wide Developers Conference earlier in June, Apple unveiled the ARkit — a developer kit to create AR-based experiences. Apple often makes such announcements and provides developer kits when it is close to launching a product.
While some AR-based experiences, such as playing games like Pokémon Go, can be replicated on smartphones, none of them would come close to experiences on a head-mounted display. Apple’s rival, Google, tried its hands at creating such experiences with the now-abandoned Google Glass. Using that device, users were able to access mixed reality; they would see animations in front of their eyes while having the usual field of vision for their surroundings. It might not be a total surprise if Apple picks up where Google left off, with a pair of AR-enabled smart glasses.
But Apple makes consumer devices and AR is currently used mainly for gaming. So what might be the functionality of this device? According to UBS analyst Steven Milunovich, Apple could create a “HoloLens type experience,” referring to Microsoft’s Mixed realty tech, which merges holograms with real surroundings. Think a pair of glasses, which on demand flashes your notifications and opens your apps in front of your eyes.
You might also be able to perform actions such as opening and shutting down apps without actually reaching for your phone, as the device will detect eye movements — Apple recently acquired SMI, a company that has been working on eye-tracking technology since 1991 and already has a pair of smart glasses that work using the technology. Integrating SMI’s technology might make the Apple device consumer-oriented. The rumored presence of a microphone on the device indicates that it might be Siri-compatible, which means it would also respond to voice commands. Apple updated its Siri patent in China and the European Union earlier this year, mentioning that Siri would support smart glass capability.
The only mystery is how Apple works out components such as RAM and a processor to give this device the computing power. But, since Snapchat and Google have already done this on a limited scale, it is not entirely unforeseeable.
But when do we see it releasing? It might be anytime between 2017 and 2020. Apple might release the product to accompany its iPhone 8, marking its 10th anniversary celebrations. Or, it could release it early in 2018, as some supply chain sources have previously indicated. According to analyst and venture capitalist Gene Munster, Apple might launch the glasses in the fiscal year 2020.
The expected price range for this product might be between $600-$1,000, according to the alleged Foxconn source.
Finally, what is the significance of the smart glasses and why does Apple seem so keen on making them? Our interpretation is that with Android catching, Apple’s iPhones have long lost the sizzle they had till iPhone 4S — every iPhone till then introduced a new feature, that weren’t seen before on Android phones.
With Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 racing ahead with features like an edge-to-edge display and 10nm processors, Apple seems to be left behind. It has also been a late mover in the smart speaker segment, revealing its speaker more than six months after similar offerings from Amazon and Google. The company needs that one product to regain its edge and reinstate its image as the leading innovator in the tech industry. That product might possibly be the Apple smart glasses.
If you want a taste of what the smart glasses might be like, watch this video: