What problems will Apple’s AR glasses need to solve?

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The Next Big Thing (NBT) in Emerging Apple Rumor seems to be fresh claims that Apple is developing AR glasses, and an OS to make them useful. What would you need these things to do to convince you to purchase them?

The known unknowns

While he didn’t let any of Apple’s secrets slip, Allen Horng, the chairman of Catcher Technology, sparked off these claims when he said:

“Based on what we have learned, [new AR products] need to look good and be light enough to wear … that makes the casings for such device very complicated to manufacture and there are still a lot of challenges to overcome currently.”

This follows recent speculation claiming Horng’s company is working on the project.

It also follows earlier reports suggesting Apple to have been developing the tech for years, at least since 2006.

Like Jon Snow we know nothing about any unannounced Apple product, but we can imagine some of what the company might want to achieve:

  • To create a stylish product with a design both classic and modern enough to both define the accessory and evangelize the brand.
  • To deliver a solution that is actually useful to people.
  • To define and extend that use with software and advanced integrated hardware.
  • Good on their own, but better in company

A recently published Apple patent suggests these glasses would do little more than work as companion devices for an iPhone.

That’s fine up to a point, I suppose, but I don’t see that as particularly innovative. I’d argue that in order for these products to be really useful they must deliver standalone features that count.

That means they would need to do everything that glasses already do, and more.

Why do people wear glasses?

I want to make an assumption that these glasses can be worn anywhere and at any time. They also need to meet an existing need.

The most obvious reason anyone wears glasses is not to look at AR games or to explore stellar star maps, but in order to see at all. Just as the iPhone had to make calls, and Apple Watch had to tell the time, it must be possible to wear these glasses even if you are short- or long-sighted.

To me, that speculation suggests Apple will need to develop optical lens technologies that can correct poor vision as accurately (or perhaps more accurately) than prescription lenses, and that any visual assets shown to a user while wearing those glasses must be visible to people with such conditions.

How do we buy them?

I don’t know enough about current ophthalmic research to say if this is possible, but can imagine how Apple could leverage its existing relationships with Corning and its existing chain of Apple retail stores to provide people who wanted to buy these glasses with eye tests. It’s not impossible that those stores could in future evolve to provide a range of augmented health-related services – perhaps this is what these conversations have been about? We can at least see a potential go to market strategy in this.

People are different

There’s another assumption worth making. People’s faces are different. That’s why people choose different frames and different lens shapes.

There may be an opportunity to limit the choices, but it seems pretty clear that a range of different shapes and designs would need to be made available.  

I can imagine frames of different color and design being sold just like Apple sells Apple Watch bands today. This implies that much of the core technology would need to be hidden inside a small part of the device, possibly the nose piece, and accessed using voice, gesture, touch and the eyes. There would be a microphone, camera, and those highly sophisticated lenses.

What do they do?

What do we need these things to do?

Apple has taken a big gamble on AR, so it makes sense that these purported Apple Glasses would be able to access such experiences. That means information about where we are, games, a range of enterprise-focused apps (such as stock pickers or technical manuals), Maps and more. Activity data, Messages, emails – everything you might expect from any iOS device.

In your bones

All those features may require audio, so it’s not unreasonable to speculate that these solutions may use some form of bone induction speakers, such as these from Zungle. (This makes more sense to me than forcing users to wear headphones).

These would be invaluable when you switch your glasses into Lean Back mode in order to watch a movie, look through Photos, surf the Web or get guidance from the device’s built-in exercise trainer. AI, iCloud, and Siri support seems inevitable.

It seems reasonable to expect these things to recharge wirelessly. Given Apple’s focus on optical and imaging technology, I can imagine the inclusion of a digital zoom we could use to get read small text, check far away objects, or (possibly) get a better look at the stars.

With all this tech already packed inside, it also feels reasonable to ask for a night time mode. (The more I follow this train of thought the more I see images of the Six Million Dollar Man).

One more thing

With so much tech packed inside the lens of these devices, I think lens replacement will cost almost as much as the glasses themselves. Apple Care will be mandatory.

What do you think? What else would you expect from Apple Glasses? What would convince you to use them? Please let me know via social media.

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This article was written by Jonny Evans from Computerworld and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.