Apple See-Through Augmented Reality HMD Glasses

The January issue of Mac Life sports a fauxtograph of possible Apple augmented reality HMD glasses. It’s hard to know how much of this article is based on concept, but Apple working on an AR HMD would be a huge jumpstart to the nascent technology.

In mid-April of 2008, Apple published a patent for a “Head Mounted Display System.”  The patent shows screens and fiber optics and vision imaging controls.  Would the display use pico projection or utilize OLED displays?  Pico displays could be used right now, but OLEDs might be a year out.

Would Apple make HMD goggle for augmented reality?  Looking back at this 2006 interview on MacSimumNews, we can see that Steve Jobs was already considering it.  Given that he also denies Apple is looking at a HMD practically guarantees they have something in the works. 

Jobs: Yes, you want a nice big screen so that you can see lots of music and you can pick out what you want, versus a tiny little screen. But then again, you want the screen to be small so that you can put it in your pocket. Actually, discovering and buying music on a computer and downloading it to the iPod—in our opinion, that’s one of the geniuses of the iPod. So you can look at changing that—and maybe that will happen over time—but I think the experience you’ll get on a device optimized for putting in your pocket is going to be far less satisfactory than on a personal computer. You may still want to do that [on a small screen] occasionally, but I don’t think it’s ever going to mean that you can not have some other device that is your primary device for buying and cataloguing music.

Swisher: What would solve that? Can it be solved?

Jobs: Rollable screens, goggles you can put on; I don’t know. It’s not on the horizon.

Given Apple’s trademark secrecy, it’s a huge unknown if MacLife’s article is pure speculation or its based on some real knowledge.  We do know that Apple has patented aspects of an AR HMD, so it’s not crazy to think they might come out with one.  With tons of augmented reality applications hitting the market, I can’t imagine that Apple will wait too long to unveil their AR glasses to grab a critical market lead.  All the pieces of the technology are available as we speak and I’m not the only one to notice this (read PatentlyApple).   

Microvision, Vuzix and Lumus are telling us to wait until 2011 for AR HMDs, but if Apple gets involved, we just might see it happen in 2010.

13 Responses

  1. IMO even if apple were at this minute developing glasses it would be a huge mistake to bring them out this year.

    There really are not the applications to support it. I mean these gps-compass things are all very well but how often does even an avid fan use them? Once a week? Maybe a bit more but personally I never have the compulsion to and I’m an AR nerd.

    No one is going to pay, what, upwards of $200 dollars? for these glasses to use the (frankly) puny applications that were out this year and probably the ones that will be out this year.

    Even the mighty apple would have a huge flop with this I think.

    Sorry if this sounds very negative, but I think its realistic.

  2. Very nice!
    I had not seen the MacLife piece.

    Did you read my AR eyewear piece in September?

    In my 2010 prediction, I speculate 2011 for Apple to enter the eyewear space.

    But I would be glad to see them come early!

    Though I do think 2010 will be the year of the iSlate, and AR glasses will stumble onto the market from somewhere else first.

    If you look at Apple’s previous product introductions, they tend to let others test the market first, and take their time before introducing their shinier, slicker interpretation of a given technology.

    For instance, the iPod was hardly first to market in the MP3 category, it just perfected it. The iPhone was far from the first smartphone, it just revolutionized the form-factor and interface. There are many other eReader devices crowding the market, Sony and the Amazon Kindle among others, but if the current media frenzy is correct, Apple will have timed the market very well, introducing the iSlate early next year.

    I just don’t see Apple trailblazing a technology of this type. Past experience tells me that they let a couple other companies test the market while they perfect their design behind the curtain.

    But I would be very happy to be proven wrong on this one.


  3. Id easily pay $200 for a decent pair of HMD.
    You cant wait for software, that would be a chicken and egg situation.
    Release the hardware, have a standard for it, and watch things popup in the app store. (which would happen very quickly). Id expect youd get updates to ARBrowsers pretty quickly, actualy.

    Remember also, that AR glass’s would also be usefull to play back video. And theres no reason at all why you couldnt also use them to make phonecalls with like a normal hands-free kit.

    Frankly, I think its crazy phones arnt built into glass’s anyway. These rectangles we have to get out and hold arnt exactly practical…they are just a thinner version of what technology used to be limited too….and we have got used to it.
    The whole design needs a rethink and I see no reason why the redesign shouldnt be based around glass’s.
    (or, the often overlooked, side-projection-into-retina option…which is a lot safer then it sounds)

    That said, I dont believe Apple will do it.
    The biggest market for AR HMD’s at the moment has got to be business’s, colledges and manufactures.
    Plenty of big company’s use their own bespoke HMD solutions at great cost. Having a mass produced one would reduce that cost tenfold at least. (even if its still beyond consumer level).
    I cant picture decent consumer ones hitting the market untill its first a lot more common elsewhere.

  4. I think we can rest assured that Apple would not produce glasses that look as wonky as those things do…

  5. I’m not as concerned about the styling of that pair in the photo. They look like knock offs of that Oakley design with the built in headphones from a few years ago.

    I seriously doubt Apple will be ready to bring a model to market in 2010.

    But I like seeing a reputable/mainstream Apple magazine pushing the idea of Apple AR eyewear. Raising the mindshare of the idea.

  6. @Thomas
    Yeah, I would also happily pay that price for a good pair. Videos and the phone thing are a good point, but they are not enough IMO. Most people don’t like using bluetooth headsets, a pair of glasses is more intrusive and obvious.

    The market penetration of current versions of video glasses is incredibly small. People are gonna take some convincing, even if we see the The Steve Jobs with them on his face.

    If the glasses could completely replace the phone – then we are talking about something really interesting. But a phone sitting in my pocket, with a long wire going to my head – I just don’t see it. It’s gonna take a fully functional gesture/voice/brain-machine interface and wirelessness before they became truly desirable IMO.

  7. @Chris

    Excellent point on apple not being first to market – the iphone was a refined version of what was currently available in the high end. And I had a mp3 player years before ipods were around (32 megabytes! wow!)

  8. “@Thomas
    Yeah, I would also happily pay that price for a good pair. Videos and the phone thing are a good point, but they are not enough IMO”

    Isnt it? Vuzix seems to be doing ok saleing video glass’s with no native AR capabilitys.

    If a company can be (seemingly) successfull saleing a sub-set of functionality, why cant a bigger company be successfull with a broader range of functionality?

    “. Most people don’t like using bluetooth headsets, a pair of glasses is more intrusive and obvious.””

    A significant percentage of people in the world already wear glass’s for one reason or another.

    While I’m not one of them I dont see something constantly on my head as more intrusive then something I have to take out. It just depends on how comfortable it is.
    I think its just a period of getting used to it.

    It is more obvious, but I’m not sure thats a problem.

    You are correct about interface issues, theres a lot to work on there.
    But at least, unlike bluetooth headsets, having a heads up display raise’s a lot more practical possibilitys for controll.
    Even a simple voice controll system works a lot better with visual feedback, as you can instantly see when its gone wrong. Eyetracking also isnt that hard to implement.
    (that said, I think Id prefer at least some buttons on the device itself though, even if its just a click/scroll wheel and a reset button)

    As for Wire’s…certainly wireless is better, but huge numbers of people already wear mp3 players…wires for the eyephones dont seem to put people off.

    I think the key is if the cost (both in money, effort to wear and convince) is less then the benefits (new functions and improved existing functions), then people will use something.

    I think released now, youd get moderate sales of a iPhone add-on. Probably only 1% of iPhone owners, but that would still be significant.

    Completely replacing the phone itself would be a lot more successfull overall, but consumers would need to get used to it.

  9. The Apple patent is for a decoupled laser display, with scanning imaging elements for each channel, and prismatic waveguides, if I recall. I think there are provisions in the patent for using other types of display engine as well. A decoupled laser is also found in on the helmet-mounted display that Ben from Microvision had with him at ISMAR. I asked him for his thoughts on the Apple patent there, and he was under the impression that it had been dismissed. In fact it was granted not long before the conference.

  10. There are OLED displays now from eMagin. OLEDs like employed with the US militarys Land Warrior Program are the ones which have been field tested already.

  11. Laptops will revolutionize the US when they are accessible to everyone financially. Think of every man and women, having a personal laptop.

  12. […] una forma de intensificar la nostra percepció que s’aconsegueix mitjançant algun dispositiu (ulleres, monitors, pantalles transparents, webcam, càmeres dels mòbils) i amb la sobreprojecció […]

  13. I have described a method of making and viewing movies and video games which would use “augmented reality”. It is at:

    Virtual Space – the future of movies and video games

    and I have continued it as a blog at:

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