Apple ‘Prepares’ AR Headset For 2020 Launch

Apple is reportedly looking to deliver an augmented-reality headset by 2020, as it looks to build on the introduction of ARKit to iOS.

Unlike current rival headsets from competitors, which tend to clip a smartphone into the headset, Apple’s augmented-reality headset will be a standalone product that will have its own display, and will run on a new chip and operating system.

For years now there have been reports that Apple has been exploring the development of a wearable augmented reality device, ever since Apple gained an AR patent in 2013 when it acquired WiFiSlam.

Augmented Reality

Speculation around Apple’s intentions only increased when CEO Tim Cook earlier this year, predicted that AR technology could have as much impact as the smartphone.

It is well known that Cook and Apple feel that AR has much more potential than virtual reality (VR), given how the technology allows for interaction with the physical world rather than immersing people in virtual ones.

And now according to Bloomberg, which cited people familiar with the situation, Apple aims to have technology ready for an augmented-reality headset in 2019 with a view to shipping it in 2020.

The development timeline is reportedly very aggressive and could still change, according to the report. Apple has reportedly declined to comment.

It seems that Apple began assembling a team to work on AR-related projects a couple of years ago, Bloomberg reported in March. The team is supposedly led by Mike Rockwell, who used to be charge of engineering at Dolby Labs.

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Own Technology

The Apple AR group is now said to be made up of several hundred engineers, and the teams are scattered across offices in both Cupertino and Sunnyvale, California. It is reported the AR team is working on several hardware and software projects under the umbrella code name of “T288.”

The team’s first product was ARKit, a set of tools that allows third party developers to create AR applications for the latest iPhones and iPads. This is apparently an interim step, in order to give Apple an opportunity to test the technology on an existing product.

The next stage will see the creation of a headset with a built-in display capable of streaming 3D video without draining the battery. According to Bloomberg, Apple is also designing its own in-house chip to power the AR headset and is also building a new operating system dubbed “rOS” for “reality operating system.”

This OS will be based on iOS and comes after Apple also produced bespoke operating systems for Apple TV (tvOS) and Apple Watches (watchOS).

There is no comfirmation how Apple’s AR device will be controlled, but the Bloomberg report suggested that the firm is investigating touch panels, voice-activation (via Siri) and head gestures.

Apple engineers are also said to be prototyping a range of applications, from mapping and texting to more advanced features including virtual meeting rooms and 360-degree video playback.

As Apple’s team has no prototype on which to experiment, the engineers are apparently using HTC Vive headsets for testing purposes. They’re also working on a device similar to an Oculus Gear VR headset.

Think you know about wearable tech? Try our quiz!

Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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