Apple and the State of AR Glasses in 2020

Ever since financial analyst Ming-Chi Kuo wrote recently that he believed that Apple would bring their first set of AR glasses to market in 2020, a lot of people in the Mac community have been wondering whether this rumor is true, and, if so, what would they look like.

Ming-Chi Kuo prediction success rate is pretty good so, when he says this could be in the hopper, I actually take notice and dig a bit deeper to see if there is any truth to his speculative notice to his clients.

It is no secret that Apple has bet big on AR. That was made clear at WWDC in 2017. If I needed any convincing that Apple was really committed to AR and that it will be a huge part of their future, that was confirmed to me when Tim Cook appointed Frank Casanova to lead this group. Frank has been with Apple since the mid-1980s and is one of their most trusted project and product leads. Although he likes to work more in the shadows, giving him the lead of AR speaks volumes about how important AR is to Apple.

I understand that he has been overseeing the internal AR development as well as directing third party software and partnerships since he took over in 2018. And to date, most of what Apple has delivered in AR so far have been software related. While software AR apps and tweaks to the iPhone to support AR are a key component in Apple’s AR strategy, it was no secret that Apple has AR glasses in the works too. Multiple patents have been filed over the last four years related to AR glasses, so we know they are at least in the works in the works. Although Apple files many patents and not all come to the market, this one seems to have a lot of legs.

However, after talking to key players in the supply chain and research our company has done on what consumers would even perceive as acceptable, I am certain that the technology that would garner broad mass adoption of AR glasses is still not available. The supply chain folks we speak with say that it is at least 2-3 years away.

So the idea that Apple would bring AR glasses to the market in 2020 makes me a bit skeptical. I have written that I really did not think Apple would introduce any AR glasses before 2021-2022 based on the info I had from the supply chain. Add to that the research we have that suggests consumers don’t want any headgear that looks like goggles and make them look like a geek and instead want them to be more like traditional glasses.

But there is a case that can be made for Apple to introduce what I would call a “consumer experimental’ first-generation model that they could get strong feedback from “early adopters” who would fork out any price to be the first to have Apple’s AR glasses.

Google tried this out with their Google Glasses in 2013, but it failed miserably.

A key reason for its failure was that it did not have have any applications or services tied to it and was more a novelty than a real product. Also, it was more a beta than a fully cooked product, but Google felt it was worth it to get feedback on it to help them determine if they should back this idea or not.

On the other hand, should Apple introduce an early version of their AR glasses, Apple has already spent two years working with software developers and many partners to create AR apps, games, and services that work on an iPhone. Taking those apps now and adding AR glasses as an alternative delivery method would be the next natural move anyway.

There is actually much precedent at Apple to do an early version of AR glasses. In my conference room tech museum, I have the original iPod and iPhone. Both are a shadow of what they looked like two years later as Technology became better for both, and the software and services expanded and made them more useful.

You could almost say that for Apple, third times the charm. Apple introduces an early version of a product, gets a good buy-in from the early adopters, works the third party software and services harder now that they have a product on the market to work with, and drives it to greater success. Then, year after year, as the Technology gets better and Apple applies advanced Technology to new models that transform the product well beyond what they introduced in its first generation, the product starts to take off and drive a new market segment for Apple to exploit via hardware, software, and services.

If the current patent designs are accurate and represent the first generation of AR glasses for Apple, they could be more like a goggle form-facture in nature at first and become more streamlined to look like normal eyeglasses by year 3 or 4. These first AR glasses will derive all of its intelligence from the iPhone and be more of an extension of the AR app yet deliver via glasses.

Indeed, I believe that for the first four or five years of any glasses Apple brings to market, that the iPhone will be its brains, and the AR glasses will be an additional screen that can be used to enhance Apple’s AR apps initially written for the iPhone. The glasses will add more functionS and introduce new UIs such as voice, gestures, and perhaps eye tracking that can also activate an AR app on the glasses.

However, after those five years, I believe Apple will be on track to give the AR glasses its own intelligence and UI and could actually replace a person’s smartphone in the future.

Next week I will delve into the idea that AR or mixed reality glasses may become the only tech device you have and drive an even new form of computing that could reshape our personal computing experience for at least the next ten years.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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