Look­ing at Ap­ple’s AR glasses with more clar­ity

What ex­actly would such a de­vice do and what are the chal­lenges it would face?

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS - Dan Moren re­ports

Ru­mours of an Ap­ple aug­mented re­al­ity head­set have been around for years, but in the past few weeks spec­u­la­tion has rapidly be­gun to ramp up, along­side sug­ges­tions that the prod­uct could be shown off as early as this year, and might even ship as early as next year. On the one hand, main­tain­ing scep­ti­cism is still healthy. Though Ap­ple has had its share of prod­uct leaks over the years, it’s still a com­pany that plays things ex­tremely close to its ch­est – espe­cially when it comes to pro­to­type hard­ware. (Un­sur­pris­ingly, af­ter the in­fa­mous in­ci­dent in which a pre-re­lease iPhone 4 was left in a bar nearly a decade ago, it’s been ex­tra cau­tious.)

But the sheer num­ber of ru­mours and amount of spec­u­la­tion are

prob­a­bly based on some­thing, so it’s not a bad time to take a look at what a pair of Ap­ple smart glasses could be, and the chal­lenges that they have to over­come.

AR, MATEY

Ap­ple’s been talk­ing up aug­mented re­al­ity for what seems like for­ever, with Tim Cook fre­quently call­ing it out as a spe­cific area of in­ter­est. What seems like hours of in­ter­minable AR demos have graced the stage at Ap­ple events, with peo­ple point­ing iPads and iPhones at blank ta­bles to show how they can in­ter­act with vir­tual ob­jects. And the com­pany re­cently rolled out the new iPad Pro, its first de­vice with LIDAR, which is a tech­nol­ogy that has a lot of po­ten­tial for AR.

But all of it has seemed lack­ing. Be­cause, fun­da­men­tally, when you’re us­ing an iPhone or iPad to peer into a vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment, it’s like peek­ing through the win­dows of a fancy house – hardly the kind of im­mer­sion that you’re aim­ing for when you’re pitch­ing some­thing as an im­prove­ment on re­al­ity.

Hence the po­ten­tial of a de­vice you wear on your face, where you don’t have to hold up a rec­tan­gle to see the meld­ing of the real world and the dig­i­tal. It cer­tainly seems like pre­cisely what a com­pany like Ap­ple would be build­ing to, af­ter all this time of lay­ing the ground­work. But Cu­per­tino’s not the first to try it.

IN YOUR FACE

Real, com­pelling AR de­vices are, if not quite the Holy Grail, then at

least one of those prod­ucts that tech com­pa­nies have been try­ing to nail for years. Google Glass was the most prom­i­nent ex­am­ple when it launched back in 2013, and while it gar­nered a lot of at­ten­tion, it never re­ally caught on with the pub­lic. In some cases, it even earned a neg­a­tive rep­u­ta­tion, as its built-in cam­era raised many a pri­vacy con­cern. Since then, com­pa­nies from Mi­crosoft to Snapchat have tried their hands at smart glasses or head­mounted dis­plays, with vary­ing lev­els of com­mit­ment and suc­cess.

But Ap­ple’s no stranger to en­ter­ing mar­kets late. It gets the ben­e­fit of see­ing where those ear­lier projects have mis­stepped, which is one rea­son I’m guess­ing that we haven’t heard, say, spe­cific ru­mours about out­ward­fac­ing cam­eras in the Ap­ple glasses. As with the Ap­ple Watch, iPhone, iPod and even the Mac, Ap­ple is no doubt bid­ing its the time to pro­duce a highly pol­ished prod­uct that will seem like the nat­u­ral ex­pres­sion of such a tech­nol­ogy.

An­other key fac­tor that has hurt adop­tion of pre­vi­ous smart glasses is some­thing tech isn’t al­ways great at: style. Af­ter all, smart glasses have to be some­thing that you choose to wear on your face, not a piece of tech that can be hid­den un­der a sleeve or tucked into a pocket. But Ap­ple has al­ways fo­cused on mak­ing its de­vices beau­ti­ful and, with the Ap­ple Watch, it spent some en­ergy into try­ing to make them fash­ion­able too. Ap­ple glasses are go­ing to have to take that idea and put it at the fore­front.

(Editor’s note: The graphic at the top of this ar­ti­cle is from a patent Ap­ple filed sev­eral years ago. Pre­sum­ably, the com­pany has moved

be­yond the de­sign de­picted in the im­age and patent.)

IF APPS COULD KILL

Looks and po­ten­tial pit­falls aside, one big ques­tion re­mains: what ex­actly is this de­vice for?

Ap­ple’s showed off a lot of things that aug­mented re­al­ity can do, from let­ting you play games that in­ter­act with the real world to apps that al­low you to, say, mea­sure a per­son’s move­ment to help them treat an in­jury. That’s a huge range of ap­pli­ca­tions, and it cer­tainly speaks to the po­ten­tial of AR.

But ru­mour has it that the glasses will at first act as a satel­lite de­vice, much like early ver­sions of the Ap­ple Watch, which makes the smart watch an apt prece­dent to look to­ward. What’s needed with AR is a nar­row­ing of fo­cus, the same way that the Ap­ple Watch at first at­tempted to be ev­ery­thing to ev­ery­one, but found more pur­chase once it ended up pri­mar­ily deal­ing with fit­ness and no­ti­fi­ca­tion.

As with the Ap­ple Watch, I think un­ob­tru­sive­ness is a key part of the de­vice. I can’t think of any­thing worse than a bar­rage of no­ti­fi­ca­tions float­ing in front of my eyes. Map­ping and di­rec­tions have al­ways seemed a nat­u­ral fit for AR, espe­cially with Ap­ple’s re­cent re­build­ing of its maps in­fra­struc­ture, though in the cur­rent world en­vi­ron­ment, it may not be as com­pelling a use case as it once was.

But ul­ti­mately, it comes down to vi­sion – if you’ll par­don the ex­pres­sion. One thing Ap­ple stresses when­ever it in­tro­duces a new de­vice or fea­ture is the story of that tech­nol­ogy. It helps trans­form some­thing from a mere gad­get into some­thing that we look and say, “Oh, that’s what it’s for.” So while we might think we know what Ap­ple’s AR glasses are for, we’re still miss­ing the whole story.

Us­ing AR on an iPad lacks a sense of im­mer­sion into the en­vi­ron­ment.

Can Ap­ple learn from the fail­ures of Google Glass?

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