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In a couple of weeks, at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple may be ready to reveal one of its most important and riskiest products yet: a new way to see the world.
The “Mixed Reality” headset is still a mystery and a mystery. Although it has been strongly rumoured, it may never come; It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if it didn’t make it to that WWDC event, though it would be a disappointment given how many whispers there have been.
But whether it comes now, later or never, Apple’s headset has been in the works for years. And clues to what it might look like — or what the world might look like through it — are already sprinkled through the company’s other products and apps.
Rumors of what the headset will look like have suggested it could be something like ski goggles, with cameras mounted on the outside and a precision screen on the inside, borrowing some of the Apple Watch’s design language; Ultimately, it’s expected to be something less like a virtual reality headset and more like glasses with a screen that will blend into normal life.
We have plenty of clues about what the mixed reality experience Apple wants people to see through. That’s because Apple and its executives have often publicly discussed the use of augmented reality, even though the hardware has remained a tightly guarded secret.
Apple’s work on a headset of sorts is believed to have been ongoing since 2016, though what exactly that headset was rumored to be has shifted over the years. Main rumors have since been working on a “mixed reality” headset: something that would use cameras to project a picture of the real world inside the users’ face-mounted headset, and overlay virtual objects on that real world. Sensors and software for .
Apple’s mixed reality headset may have evolved from looking like glasses, to resembling more discreet glasses
Spoke to Tim Cook in 2017 IndependentAbout the importance of augmented reality. At the time, he was mainly talking about the iPhone and iPad, and how their cameras, sensors, and screens could be used to layer virtual objects on top of the real world.
It was clear even then that Apple actually planned to incorporate it into glasses or goggles of some sort. When asked at the time, Mr Cook pointed to “rumours and stuff about companies working on them” and declined to discuss Apple’s plans, but said “the technology itself doesn’t exist”. [devoted hardware] in a quality manner”.
“The performance required technique, as well as putting enough stuff around your face – there are big challenges in that,” he said. “The field of view, the quality of the display, it’s not there yet,” he said, adding that Apple “doesn’t give a rat about being first” and won’t launch anything until it’s satisfied.
Apple CEO Tim Cook talks to The Independent in London in 2017 about iPhones, AR, and why things are getting better
(Brooks Kraft / Apple)
Since that time, Apple has been working very hard to be satisfied with that technology. It seems to be paying off: Last week, virtual reality pioneer Palmer Luckey, who built Oculus and then sold it to Meta, suggested he had seen an early version of the headset and it was “pretty cool.”
Such is the plethora of vague and uncertain information we have to tell about the headset, which hasn’t really leaked in any definite form, even as rumors suggest it’s weeks ahead of launch. But if the hardware is unknown, Apple’s plans aren’t so mysterious.
That’s because Apple may already be quietly planning for the metaverse — or something like that, given that the company is unlikely to embrace the mixed response to “Web 3.0” from both Facebook and Facebook’s co-effort. Pick it up by renaming it meta and re-orienting the company around it.
Apple will probably avoid much of that branding, as it has quickly become entwined with a kind of hype and boosterism that it doesn’t associate itself with. It also generally likes to make up its own terms — and recent trademarks include a filing for “xrOS,” which may be branding for the operating system that powers the headset.
But those early experiments in the metaverse already show some of the ways Apple can imagine interacting with its new headset. The most obvious comparison is with the Oculus headsets now developed by Meta.
(AFP via Getty Images)
They have focused more on virtual reality than on augmented reality; Meta is interested in creating entirely new digital worlds, rather than simply overlaying virtual objects on the real world, like Apple seems to be interested in. But the use cases may be similar, and Meta has focused on applications such as business meetings, where people can sit around an actual table and discuss things, as well as VR games such as the hugely popular Beat Saber. , where people try to hit objects with a sword in time.
Apple has focused more on the quality of interaction with devices in recent years, and has actually encouraged users to spend less time on their devices and more time being active. As such, it may not opt for mixed reality experiences that lock people inside a headset, and may instead be more outward-looking.
As such, Apple may still focus on meetings, but will likely use its augmented reality technology to add virtual people to real rooms instead of filling them in computer-designed spaces. And it could focus more on people’s interactions with real environments, for example, allowing people to see their messages or directions as they walk around, a version of which is already being used by people wearing the Apple Watch. is experienced.
Apple has already offered a number of technologies aimed at making it easier for developers to incorporate augmented reality into their iPhone and iPad apps. In 2017, when Cook made those tantalizing comments about a possible headset, he was actually showing off the use of those outlines: in the app Night Sky, for example, which superimposes constellations on top of actual camera views of stars. Overlays virtual images of
The company makes that technology possible with a number of systems in both its hardware and software. That hardware includes cameras, of course, but some iPhones and iPads also have a LiDAR sensor that allows for precise scanning of the environment; The most obvious is in the form of software ARKit, which does the heavy lifting of understanding the world around a user so that developers can place their virtual objects in it.
Since then, developers like Ikea have used it to offer the option of dropping virtual furniture into a real room to see how it might fit, for example. Other apps like 3D scanners use those sensors to allow people to easily create virtual views of rooms as if they were in a video game.
But the best way to gauge Apple’s plans for the headset can be found in its own technology. Apple has been quietly building a whole world of apps that seem ready for mixed reality, hiding in plain sight.
One of them is Memoji, which are cartoon versions of people that can be used as stickers to react to messages, or as profile pictures within messages. Apple has gone heavy on them in recent years, using them as decorations in its presentations, for example.
Apple CEO Tim Cook (right) speaks using his Memoji during the 2020 WWDC in California
For the time being, they are just a funny picture. But it’s easy to imagine how they could be immediately used as avatars for people in virtual environments.
If people are to participate in virtual meetings through their headsets, that meeting will need to appear in some form to the other participants, and current versions of those environments such as Meta’s Horizons worlds are based on realistic depictions of people rather than people. Let’s rely on the cartoon picture. Apple already has them ready to go – many iPhone owners may have already created their own virtual avatar without even knowing it.
Aside from meetings, one of the most talked about use cases of mixed reality is in direction finding. For example, a person may be walking up to a junction, and see a virtual sign telling them to turn left onto the actual road they need to start walking down.
Apple has been laying the groundwork for that kind of technology for years. It launched Apple Maps in 2012 and has since worked to integrate it with the real world: for example, by collecting detailed 3D information about the world, so that it shows accurate and precise virtual models of real buildings and a “look around” tool, introduced in 2019, that works like Google Street View and lets people scroll through three-dimensional panoramas.
At this point, those features are used to make people’s phone navigation nicer: for example, as you drive through a city, 3D models of buildings move around, making it feel like That virtual car on your phone is actually driving along. But it takes little imagination to see that the real purpose of those models may be to allow Apple to have an accurate sense of the real world, so that the headset can know where it is and help its wearer. .
Apple Maps introduces 3D models of buildings and attractions
Apple is also already working on wearable products, which may provide insight into how the headset will work. The Apple Watch and AirPods already work by attaching themselves to people’s bodies and adding a layer of digital information — which is one way the headset would be aiming.
For example, the AirPods have found a way to lightly layer information on top of the real world: using Siri to read messages as they come in, and adding a transparency mode that—with the noise of the real world— Allows accompanying sound. through earphones.
And the Watch could be a glimpse into how Apple will encourage people to strap a computer to their bodies in a way that may sound dangerously sci-fi but has become relatively commonly accepted. Apple encouraged the watch to become an approachable accessory by focusing on personalization and designing it in a way that brings a sense of softness that doesn’t make the hardware look too much like a computer – it’s probably the same with the headset. Will do
Apple’s new products are often described as being conjured out of nowhere. But really all of its recent innovations have roots in past products: The iPhone combined an iPod and a computer, and both the iPad and the Apple Watch were larger and smaller versions of that iPhone.
That appears to be the case with Apple’s headset, which may be looking a lot more familiar than we expected. When the company takes to the stage to reveal its new products in a few weeks, we may get the feeling that the product Apple wants us to strap over our faces has been developed right under our noses.