Apple AR Glasses Patents

In January 2017, Apple was granted a pair of patents that could give us our first proper glimpse at the company's AR aspirations. Patent no. 9,560,273 details the hardware framework of an AR device that can understand its environment thanks to enhanced computer vision capabilities, while patent no. 9,558,581 details the method of overlaying virtual information on a physical environment.

Apple AR & VR: Patent

Both patents were filed back in 2015 by German AR specialist Metaio shortly before Apple acquired the firm, and transferred to Apple in November 2016.

Patent 273 describes a "wearable information system having at least one camera" but goes further and discusses the possibilities of having more cameras, a screen, a UI and even internal components dedication to computer vision. The patent details a head-mounted display as the primary platform for AR, but it also suggests that a smartphone (aka the iPhone) could serve as a decent stand-in.

However, on the whole, the patents deal more with object recognition than it does the visualisation of the AR data. The issue of object recognition is a barrier in the AR industry on the whole, as existing solutions require a large amount of power and thus, aren't ideal for real-world use.

In Apple's case, the 'invention' maintains a low-power scanning mode for the majority of its operation, with high-power modes triggered in relatively short bursts.

Then, in May 2017, a patent surfaced depicting the head-mounted display of Apple's upcoming augmented reality headset. The patent details a device and techniques for projecting a source image in a HMD comprised of left and right displays, suggesting that they may look more like standard glasses than Google's failed Glass.

Apple AR & VR: Patent

In the filing, Apple notes that some HMDs can be used to view a transparent image imposed upon a real world view. Sound familiar to augmented reality? We think so too.

The most recent patent filing, first discovered in July 2017, describes how a pair of AR-enabled glasses could interact with a smartphone. The user is said to be able to interact with the objects that appear on the glasses using their smartphone. Of course, the phone would need to be equipped with the necessary hardware and software to be compatible with the glasses, and we're unsure if the tech is already featured on the iPhone 7 or not. 

Another concept in the patent describes how the user can interact with objects that appear on the AR glasses by pointing at them - a similar mechanic is used by Microsoft in its HoloLens glasses, so it's not a far-fetched idea. The patent claims that it'll be possible via an array of cameras attached to the glasses, as the cameras will map and track the user's finger as it moves towards the on-screen object.

With more advanced patents appearing, it suggests that Apple is taking augmented reality very seriously, and we might be seeing Apple's AR-enabled device on the market sooner than originally thought.

Apple AR Glasses release date rumours

Assuming that Apple is working on an AR headset, and is going to announce one at some point, when would be a likely time?

HoloLens is available for developers and probably won't get a public release for the foreseeable future, and development on Google Glass has been halted. It's not looking good for the Apple AR headset, right?

Apple traditionally announces devices it can sell in the same year. While until recently we suggested that it wouldn't be until 2018, a rumour suggests that we might get to see Apple's AR headset this year. Robert Scoble discussed the possibility of a 2017 release during a 'This Week in Tech' podcast, claiming that Apple may release a pair of AR glasses as soon as this year.

Scoble carried on to claim that it could be timed to be announced alongside the hotly anticipated iPhone 8 in September 2017.

However, while Scoble is quick to name a release date window, there's no real proof to go along with the claim, only sources situated "at the highest levels".

On the other hand, a recent (paywall'd) story from the Financial Times claims that even though Apple is "stepping up" its augmented reality efforts and that it's the most important development project within the company, the launch is "still at least a year away, perhaps even longer".

Citing people with knowledge of the project, the FT claims that Apple began assembling a team of augmented reality experts around a year ago. Fast forward to now and more resources have been devoted to the project than Apple's rumoured driverless car.

The most recent rumour from a Foxconn insider suggests that the Apple AR Glasses project might have been pushed back until 2018 or 2019, or might've been scrapped altogether. The insider also noted that while the smart glasses had a unique design, there's a 65 percent chance that it has been shelved. 

The insider provided details on the design - featuring a bone conduction earpiece, a microphone, an accelerometer and a capacitive frame for navigation and interaction, the glasses sound impressive. The smart glass itself was said to be manufactured using a Kopin NED Acetate frame, and there's even claims that Apple was looking to sell them with prescription lenses or even polarised lenses in partnership with Zeiss. Whether this is still the case, however, is yet to be revealed. 

We at Macworld UK speculate that Apple won't release the glasses in 2017. Instead, it'll wait a year, giving developers enough time to experiment with the all-new ARKit in iOS 11 and develop useful AR apps. Why? Because if Apple does release AR glasses, it'll need a lot of content to draw consumers in; content that could be based on iOS apps that run ARKit. And if it's a choice between buying AR Glasses with no available apps right now compared to AR Glasses with a library of apps in a year's time, we know which we'd go for.

So while some suggest that Apple's AR glasses will be made available in 2017, we're not too sure.