Apple is one of the biggest consumer tech companies alongside giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. It has been manufacturing various gadgets from iPhones to MacBooks to smart speakers. With augmented and virtual reality trending in recent times, and several VR and AR headsets popping up, you’d expect that Apple would have one of theirs by now.
Facebook, Google, and Microsoft already have at least one product on the market, but there has been nothing from Apple so far. There have been several rumors that Apple is working on a pair of AR glasses. Apple in its usual manner did not comment, but recent discoveries by some developers and the purchase of certain companies have led us to believe that Apple might release a pair of AR glasses soon.
StarBoard & STARtester
Late last year in September, MacRumors discovered documentation in the internal build of iOS 13 that suggests that Apple is working on a head-mounted augmented reality display. One of the README files in the internal build talks about a “system shell for stereo AR-enabled apps”. The README file also indicated that Apple is working on an AR device with the codename “Garta” Alongside StarBoard in the internal build is an app called StarTester that simulates the functionality of a VR headset on an iPhone.
Franc & Luck
Shortly after MacRumors made these discoveries, Guilherme Rambo, an author at 9to5Mac tweeted that the then newly released Xcode 11 Golden Master contained an “ARDisplayDevice framework”, with data files pointing to AR headsets codenamed “Franc” and “Luck”, and a HoloKit codenamed “Garta”.
The same day Guilherme discovered this, iOS developer Steve Troughton-Smith also discovered a StarBoard framework corroborating MacRumors’ discovery above. Some days later, another iOS developer tweeted a video of a working demo of StartTester on the iPhone X and XR. The developer also discovered references to numbers indicating the fields of view of Franc, Luck, and Garta (61, 58, and 68 degrees respectively).
In the past couple of years, Apple has made two acquisitions that show that they are making a move in the AR/VR industry. The first acquisition was made in 2017 of a company called Vrvana. As at the time it was purchased, Vrvana had a mixed reality headset that made use of front-facing cameras to deliver a Passthrough-like feature like in the Oculus headsets.
The second acquisition made was of a company called Akonia Holographics in 2018. There are two technologies that Akonia was working on before getting acquired that could play an important role in an Apple AR headset. Akonia was working on waveguide displays conventionally used for AR displays. The company was also working on holographic storage, which is a way of storing and retrieving data in three dimensions. Holographic storages are much faster than conventional ones, making them very important in the development of lightweight headsets.
While all these “spoilers” clearly indicate that Apple is working on an AR headset or glasses, nobody knows when we would get one. There are reports that say we might get one as early as next year, while others say 2022, or 2023. Whichever it is, it is not too far into the future.
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Image courtesy: MacRumors