Apple may release a VR/AR headset with rich mixed reality features in 2022 and then lightweight AR glasses in 2023, according to a report from The Information.
The Information claims these details were revealed at a large presentation to around 1000 employees, indicating that Apple’s VR/AR teams are larger than previously thought.
2022: VR-AR Headset
The headset is reportedly codenamed N301. It is described as resembling Facebook’s Oculus Quest, but with a sleeker design. Apple is said to be using fabrics, as Quest does, but the report suggests there will be a focus on reducing weight so the device can be worn comfortably for longer periods.
Whereas the Quest is mainly a virtual reality device with limited black & white passthrough for setup, N301 is said to use more spatial environmental mapping for mixing simulated and real elements of a room. N301, then, may one day become a true Apple mixed reality headset enabling developers to incorporate elements from your physical room in their software.
The Apple device is said to have a high enough resolution to read small text. Apple would be able to power such a headset with its own system on a chip, which may provide a competitive edge over Facebook which uses Qualcomm chips.
The report suggests Apple may start approaching developers in 2021 to build content for the system.
2023: AR Glasses
Apple’s more ambitious product is reportedly codenamed N421. This project is described as lightweight AR glasses meant to be worn all day.
One of The Information’s sources, who has seen the prototype, describes it as looking like “high-priced sunglasses with thick frames that house the battery and chips”. In 2018, Apple acquired Akonia Holographics, a startup working on novel optics for AR based on holography.
In September, MacRumors reportedly found references to iPhone-connected AR glasses called ‘Garta’, and a spatial launcher interface for them called ‘StarBoard’. When the final iOS 13 build was released to developers, developer Steve Troughton-Smith was able to inspect the code and confirmed the report’s claims. N421 may be the consumer device based on this project.
If these AR glasses do come to market, Apple may come into direct competition with Facebook, which is also developing AR glasses on a similar timeframe. Last year, a Business Insider report suggested Facebook’s prototype also resembled traditional glasses.
Snapchat AR Spectacles
The Information’s report also claims that Snapchat’s fourth generation Spectacles, codenamed Hermosa, will have a display system “capable of showing AR effects”. Snapchat’s previous three iterations of the product have simply been camera glasses, with no display or audio to the user. The videos and photos taken by the glasses are currently synced to the user’s smartphone.
Snapchat could still be the first major company to release consumer AR glasses, however, they would likely pack fewer features than what Facebook and Apple plan.