Here’s what I hope Apple’s AR future looks like.
There’s an increasing amount of noise around the prospect of Apple’s augmented reality (AR) headset (or glasses, or whatever it’s going to be) coming soon. Recent rumors go so far as to say that they might even arrive in the first half of 2020, which would make sense as there also seems to be a lot of code for supporting an external AR product found in iOS 13.
What really isn’t clear at this point though is just what form Apple’s first foray into dedicated AR hardware will take. Some indications suggest a bulkier headset, closer to something you’d use for VR, though there is increasing circumstantial evidence that Apple may release a set of AR eyeglasses akin to the Focals by North, and work as an accessory to the iPhone.
But today, we’re not really here to talk about the rumors or speculation. This is more on the wish casting end of the spectrum. This is what I’d want to see in a head-mounted AR display from Apple.
Glasses, glasses, glasses
Right off the top, I’d rather have glasses than a larger AR headset. A headset meant for general consumers would likely be meant for things like games and other pieces of entertainment, or in some capacities education, and that’s just not what I’m looking for. Plus, as a life-long wearer of glasses, the prospect of a bulky headset on my face that may or may not work well with my glasses isn’t a thrilling prospect.
No, I want to see something more akin to North’s Focal smart glasses. For those that are unfamiliar, the Focals act as a minimal display that can show you notifications for your phone, including text messages, calendar events, and social posts. The Focals also have capabilities of their own, including connecting to services like Spotify and Uber, but on Apple’s glasses, I’d expect all of that to be handled through a connection to your iPhone or Apple Watch.
Something like smart glasses, rather than a big bulky headset (because no matter how much work Apple does, a full AR headset will be bulky, at least comparatively), offer a greater chance of wider adoption of the technology. And glasses will also stand out less than something like Google Glass, which is a comparison I’m sure Apple would want to avoid.
Because eyeglasses are very common in our everyday lives, people would be less hesitant to actually use Apple’s AR glasses. Which is great news, because you can bet that I’ll pick up a pair, and I want to be excited about my new piece of tech. I don’t want to be distracted by what people may be thinking about me as I wear it. And I also don’t want them worried that I’ll be surreptitiously recording them, which leads me to my next wish…
It’s not that I think it’s particularly likely that I think Apple will include a camera on a set of smart glasses. Again, I think Apple would want to avoid as many comparisons to Google Glass as they could, and I could see the company still believing that you should take the iPhone that undoubtedly does most of the background processing for the glasses out of your pocket if you want to take a photo.
Also, I just don’t want a camera bolted to my face. If these are actual glasses, it’s likely that I’d use them as my everyday pair, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to document my every waking moment on video. I’m sure that appeals to some people, but I’m not one of them. And here’s the other thing about wearing a not-always-obvious camera: it’s creepy. Don’t do it. Why would you think that’s okay?
Plus, there are other sensors that I’d like to see in smart glasses from Apple, and I’m not sure there would be a lot of room for a camera anyway. For one thing, I’d love to see a compass built into them, along with Apple’s new U1 Ultra WideBand (UWB) chip, which has some potential applications both for general AR and specifically for navigation. Plus, you know Apple’s going to work to put as much battery as they can reasonably fit into any set of eyeglasses. Save some space, skip the camera, add more battery.
Navigation and safety
When I’m walking around, particularly in an unfamiliar city, I’m constantly looking down at my phone or Apple Watch trying to follow the walking directions. This often leads to a problem of my not always looking where I’m going, which can be, you know, dangerous. Even if I’m not constantly looking down while walking, I am constantly stopping to look at the directions and pull my iPhone out of my pocket.
Instead, put that stuff right in front of my face on a set of smart glasses. And you could even have the visual alerts work like the audio alerts, where they only pop up as you need to follow the next step in the directions. You don’t need to have the navigation display constantly on, but it will be there when you need it.
But that’s for walking directions. What about if you’re driving? When you’re in the car, the display should be off. No notifications, no directions, nothing directly in front of your face except the lenses on the glasses. If you’re getting directions from your phone, either mounted on your dashboard or plugged into a CarPlay unit, it’s easier to ignore directions that you have to actively look at versus those that would pop up right in your face. And if something happens on the road, like there’s an accident, or an animal pops out in front of your car, you want to have all of your attention available to react to that situation, so being able to ignore the direction display is actually a good thing.
And Apple already has a system in place that would be perfect for managing the use of the glasses in the car automatically: Do Not Disturb While Driving. Your iPhone can already make a guess as to when you’re moving in a vehicle, and while you can deactivate that mode on your phone if you want, such as when you’re a passenger, maybe it’s for the best that you can’t deactivate it for the glasses, at least until Apple can actually figure out your exact position within the car itself.
With the Apple Watch, it’s so simple. Apple offers a small, square-ish device that sits on your wrist, which you can personalize with any number of compatible bands. You make it yours both through the casing color and band selections you make, and it’s often small and out of the way enough that people might not think about it. But people will readily notice your glasses, and glasses are harder to personalize after you get them.
This is why I’d like to see Apple partner with third-party eyewear brands to launch glasses in a wide variety of styles, both eyeglasses and sunglasses, if possible. So instead of everyone walking down the street with the exact same smart glasses on their face, you instead walk around with something that better fits your personal style.
I believe that if Apple does go the glasses route, it’ll make a sort of default pair themselves. Maybe they’ll even price it competitively. But it would be nice if I could get, say a pair of Apple-powered Ray-Bans.
Price parity for prescriptions
I really like the look of the Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. Classic, clean, and uncomplicated. Now it’s true, they’re expensive, you’re paying for both quality and the Ray-Ban brand name. But if you think the non-prescription versions are expensive, wait until you see what the prescription glasses cost.
$354. That’s to get prescription Wayfarers. It’s $424 if you want them polarized. That’s $101 to $271 more expensive than the standard non-polarized glasses. Even the Focals by North are $200 more expensive if you get them with prescription lenses When it comes to designer brands, this is what you often deal with when buying prescription glasses. And I can’t help but think that Apple, partners or no partners, will position its glasses as a designer product.
Look, I’m under no illusion that Apple smart glasses are going to be inexpensive. But Apple could take a big step, not just in the smart eyewear market, but the eyewear market in general, if it didn’t charge extra, at least for a prescription version of its own glasses. Partners will charge what they’re going to charge, but Apple could set an example here, and it’s one that would be appreciated by the millions upon millions of people that need some kind of vision correction.
What do you want to see?
Whether you want to see glasses or a big, gaming-focused headset, let us know in the comments what you want to see from Apple’s dedicated AR hardware.