Apple's Future AR Glasses have Reportedly begun an initial Production Trial Phase at a Foxconn Plant
In mid-June Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple's Secretive Technology Development Group is working on both AR Glasses and an Advanced HMD with a Stunning Display." The rumor was supported by years of patent filings that we had reported on covering both HMDs and Glasses. Today we're learning that Apple is reaching a new stage of AR device development.
While COVID-19 has disrupted key parts of Apple’s business, It apparently hasn’t derailed their plans to build what could be its next important technology platform—augmented reality devices.
The Information, a subscription-based digital media company, reveals that Apple is working with Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology, Apple’s largest contract manufacturer and the one responsible for building most iPhones, to develop semi-transparent lenses for its AR devices.
As of two months ago, the lenses—considered one of the most essential elements of the head-worn devices—had passed the prototype stage and entered trial production, though still a year or two away from mass production, a person familiar with the matter said.
AR glasses and headsets allow people who wear them to view digital imagery overlaid on and intermingled with their physical surroundings. The technology could give people a new way to view everything from map directions to video-conference calls, and allow them to play games with characters and objects that hide around the corners of real buildings.
The most bullish believers in AR think the devices could one day become as ubiquitous as smartphones. But there are still enormous technical challenges that companies building the technologies, including Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, must overcome before AR devices have any chance to find a mass market. These include building comfortable designs people are willing to wear in public on their faces, improving battery life and producing lenses that can display absorbing imagery.
Foxconn has been working on the AR lenses for about three years, the person familiar with the matter said. That timing coincides with Apple’s 2018 acquisition of Akonia Holographics, a Colorado-based startup that utilized a liquid-crystal-on-silicon display to project images inside its proprietary lenses. It isn’t clear, however, if Apple is using any of Akonia’s technology for these first generation lenses. For more on this, read the full report by The Information.
One of Apple's latest published patents for AR Glasses was made public in late June by the U.S. Patent Office. Patently Apple covered this in a report titled "Apple Patent illustrates Future Smartglasses Offering a Modular Design allowing users to exchange parts for Different Functionality." It was Apple's very first patent filing illustrating a possible modular approach to their new device, allowing for maximum customization. A set of patent figures from that patent are presented below to help you visualize this concept.
On a minor scaled, Apple has taken this approach with "Apple Watch Studio" where you get to choose the watch size, the case and the strap. With AR Glasses, users could theoretically chose frame style and color, glasses or sunglasses, prescription of non-prescriptive lenses, and choose from 1-3 Glass Arm configurations akin to choosing iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. The more you pay, the more components you'l get in the arm and more.
Apple's move into AR devices will be a crucial move in order to protect their iPhone market. The glasses are likely to include iPhone functionality to stave off competitors like Facebook who have already made it clear that their future smartglasses is to replace smartphones and are well on the way to developing their special OS for this project.
Expect more in-depth leaks like today's about Apple's future AR Glasses to emerge over the next year or two that are believed to be secretly orchestrated by Apple in order to rev up Apple fans prior to their inevitable release.
Apple will want to unveil their first AR Glasses in dramatic fashion at a special event just as the late Steve Jobs did for the iPhone. It'll be a keynote designed to give everyone watching goose bumps and to drive die-hard fans to excitedly pound their keyboards to preorder them online in droves.