Bloomberg reported today that Apple is working on an augmented reality headset that it hopes to bring to market in 2020. The headset would feature its own display rather than relying on an iPhone, and it would run a new spin-off from iOS in the vein of watchOS or tvOS, currently called rOS internally, for “reality operating system.”
The project is one of many AR-related initiatives that fall under the internal code name T288, all made by a team of “several hundred engineers” led by former Dolby Labs engineering head Mike Rockwell. Earlier this year, Apple hired an accomplished VR and AR researcher named Doug Bowman from Virginia Tech, too. The team has already produced ARKit, a software development toolkit for iOS that takes care of a lot of the heavy lifting for third-party developers who want to make AR apps.
In fact, the same team is also working on a new version of ARKit that would add persistence tracking features and lay better groundwork for multiplayer AR experiences and games.
As for the headset, Apple is reportedly developing a system-on-a-package chip specifically for this device. A mass-usable prototype does not seem to have arrived yet, though; the report says that Apple is using HTC Vive headsets and an in-house design that uses an iPhone screen to test some aspects of the technology. The tech is expected to be ready in 2019, with a product for market in 2020, but the timeline is called “aggressive” and could, of course, be subject to change.
In some ways, this report seems surprising—a headset doesn’t fit Apple’s usual ethos of tech that blends naturally into your life, and Tim Cook said in an interview very recently that the technology required for quality AR glasses “doesn’t exist” yet. However, he said in the same interview that he believes the spread of AR will be “dramatic” and on the scale or importance of the adoptions of mobile apps and the Apple App Store.
The iPhone 8 and iPhone X were built with AR as a primary concern. Most new technological additions to those phones served the AR vision in one way or another. Apple hopes we’re going to see a new app store gold rush around this technology. Apple is not the only company pursuing this potential frontier, of course; Google has ARCore, and Microsoft’s efforts here are well-known.
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