We all know that Apple has big augmented reality (AR) ambitions but ARKit is focused on using an iPhone or iPad’s display to overlay digital information to the real world.
However, a patent that’s just been uncovered points at a new form factor for Apple’s AR assault. “Semi-transparent spectacle or glasses” are mentioned in the details of a patent that originated from Metaio – an augmented reality startup that Apple acquired in August 2015 – hinting at a pair of Apple AR smart glasses.
Apple’s patent FIG. 10a, as discovered by the guys at Patently Apple provides details on representing POIs in the view of a real environment on a semi-transparent screen of a head-mounted display (HMD).
“It is typically not possible for the user to touch the head-mounted screen in a manner like a touchscreen,” reads Patently Apple’s analysis of the documents. “However, the camera that captures an image of the real environment may also be used to detect image positions of the user’s finger in the image. The image positions of the user’s finger could be equivalent to touching points touched by the user’s finger on the touchscreen.”
AR differs from VR (virtual reality). VR is a fully immersive digital world whereas augmented (or mixed reality) overlays digital aspects over the real world. It was AR that Google’s Glass project used and it’s now a huge buzz area in tech thanks to the likes of Microsoft’s Hololens and the mysterious Magic Leap startup.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has praised AR in the past, describing it as a “core technology”.
“There’s virtual reality and there’s augmented reality – both of these are incredibly interesting,” Cook told Good Morning America in 2016. “But my own view is that augmented reality is the larger of the two, probably by far.
“Virtual reality sort of encloses and immerses the person into an experience that can be really cool,” he added, “but probably has a lower commercial interest over time. Less people will be interested in that.”
According to Bloomberg, Apple has already been in talks with potential suppliers for components of a glasses-like device and “has ordered small quantities of near-eye displays from one supplier” for testing purposes.