Apple wants to have a standalone augmented reality headset ready for use by 2019, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The company’s interest in the technology is well-established, with CEO Tim Cook stating in a recent earnings report that Apple believes “AR is going to change the way we use technology forever.” The company took a first major step into augmented reality this year with the launch of ARKit in iOS 11.
According to Bloomberg, the planned AR headset would have its own display, a new chip, and a specially-designed operating system, currently referred to internally as “rOS” or “reality operating system.” Apple’s engineers are reportedly exploring a number of ways users might control the headset, including head gestures, touch panels, and voice control via Siri.
With prototype headsets still in the works, though, Apple’s designers are said to be using HTC Vive VR headsets to test the limitations and potential of AR. Applications they’re exploring, says Bloomberg, include mapping, messaging, and “virtual meeting rooms.” The launch of ARKit on iPhones and iPads also gives some idea of potential uses, with developers creating apps for AR gaming, home redesign, and more.
If the new report is correct, Apple is working to an ambitious schedule, aiming to have its AR device ready by 2019, with the possibility of shipping it to consumers in 2020. Earlier this year, patent applications from Apple surfaced showing how it imagined AR glasses working.
Despite the hype in recent years, virtual reality and augmented reality headsets have failed to find widespread appeal. However, AR devices — which overlay digital information onto the viewer’s line of sight — have been shown to be more practical in certain environments. Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, for example, is being used by Ford to visualize new car designs, while Google Glass is finding a second life in factories.
It’s clear, though, from Cook’s statements that Apple believes the future of augmented reality will have a much broader appeal. The CEO says AR is much less isolating than VR, and has described the technology as being as potentially revolutionary as the smartphone. If that’s the case, then there’s certainly a lot riding on Apple’s first true AR device.