Over the last two weeks, we have seen many posts stating that Apple would release its first version of mixed reality glasses by the end of this year. The major leak came from John Pressor, a proficient leaker of Apple products, who claims he has seen them. He says it has a plastic frame with various digital displays and would start at $499 for the non-prescription version.
I have been highly skeptical that Apple would have any AR or mixed reality glasses ready by the end of 2020 and had predicted that a more reasonable time frame for Apple’s release of these glasses would be the end of 2021 or early 2022.
My predictions were not a guess. I have been talking to companies who make critical components for mixed reality glasses, especially ones that look like standard glasses. All told me that the technology needed to make something like this was not ready for prime time. These technologies include the necessary optical lenses for a tiny display to broadcast images on to the glass without any blurring or imaging issues. It also consists of the miniaturization of all types of components such as Bluetooth radio, a tiny battery that could last most of the day, a specialized local CPU and GPU that make the images sharp with no distortion and many others micro components.
While Apple will most likely use an iPhone to power these mixed reality glasses, there will still need to be a lot of technology in the glasses themselves. In a sense, these glasses are a portable wireless monitor for the iPhone.
If my supplier sources are right, Apple’s ability to get a set of mixed reality full-featured glasses to market by the end of this year is highly questionable.
There is precedent though for Apple to release an early version of a product that could provide the features that early adopters might buy and, in turn, help Apple fine-tune the next versions of Apple Glasses over the next two years.
That precedent comes from Apple’s first-generation of the iPod. In pure technology terms, it was a well designed MP3 player, with a flywheel for navigation. However, to get the music into the first generations of the iPod, you needed to “rip” your CD into the Mac via its CD ROM drive and then, using specialized software and a cable, side-load them to the iPod.
By today’s standards, the first two or three Pods were very primitive, but it launched Apple into the world of portable music. By the fourth and fifth generation of the iPod, Apple had made it much easier to download music directly to the iPod and manage a person’s music library more efficiently. The later versions were also sleeker with more elegant designs.
While I am still doubtful Apple could bring out a set of mixed reality glasses by the end of this year, given Apple’s history with the iPod, one could make a case that an early model with limited functionality could be in the cards for either late 2020 or early 2021.
Apple had a similar slow adoption for the iPhone too. The first model worked well, but it took another two years, and the App store’s birth in the third year, for the iPhone to take off.
In the case of introducing an Apple Glasses headset, Apple does have an advantage over the early models of the iPod and iPhone. Apple supplied its developers with AR Kit software in 2017. Many developers have been creating AR apps that are used on the iPhone and iPad today. Those AR apps could be adapted for Apple Glasses with an updated AR toolkit.
That means that should Apple release a set of mixed reality glasses yet this year or next, and Apple already has a stable of apps and services that could be ready for use on any MR glasses whenever they bring it to market.
As in the examples of the iPod and iPhone, where the first few generations of the product worked well, the third and fourth generation models increased in design, function, and capabilities.
Today I am still skeptical that Apple Glasses will come out in 2020 and think late 2021 or early 2022 is still the target date. The supply chain usually determines when a product can be released.
Tim Cook has pretty much bet Apple’s future on AR and getting a product right from the beginning is essential for Apple to get the traction it needs to move a new product forward and into the mainstream. That makes the timing of when Apple does release this MR glasses so important. Any version that does not meet customers’ expectations from the beginning could be a mistake. That is why, given the technology needed for these glasses may not be ready for prime time, I am very skeptical that it could come out yet this year.