Apple Headset Rumors May Delay AR Going Mainstream

A new report suggests that Apple’s much-rumored augmented reality (AR) glasses could debut far later than some folks expected—by 2022, as opposed to next year. That could radically change the long-term plans of any technologists who are betting that AR will eventually become a truly mainstream product.

According to The Information, which leveraged some of its typically deep sourcing, an internal presentation at Apple headquarters (a.k.a., Apple Park, a.k.a. the “Spaceship”) suggested the company would roll out its debut AR headset in 2022, followed by a slimmer pair of “AR glasses” by 2023.

If true, that’s a big shift from earlier rumors that suggested Apple was planning to debut its headset early next year. The slim AR glasses will look nothing like the current, bulky headsets that currently serve as platforms for AR and VR, according to The Information, which described the hardware as “high-priced sunglasses with thick frames that house the battery and chips.”

Developer outreach for AR apps will supposedly begin by 2021. As the smartphone proved, you can’t have a successful device without a huge ecosystem of third-party apps created by independent developers; that’s why Apple’s iOS and Google Android rule the mobile world, while brands such as Windows Phone and BlackBerry have ended up in history’s dustbin of dead technology.

However, developers seem mixed on whether augmented reality will actually succeed. Earlier this year, Dice conducted some polling that showed some 59 percent of technologists didn’t think augmented reality would do anything meaningful for tech; meanwhile, 41 percent thought the technology offered some promise. That’s not overwhelmingly positive.

Nonetheless, Apple is determined to push ahead. At this year’s WWDC conference, the company introduced RealityKit, which works in conjunction with ARKit (Apple’s AR developer framework) to make experiences even more immersive. For example, RealityKit offers the ability to generate a model skeleton of humans as they move (helpful for any apps that need to recognize and virtually “augment” a human being in the user’s view). There’s also multiplayer functionality, which will only help if Apple wants its AR headset to become a gaming platform. (The latest version of ARKit, meanwhile, offers gesture recognition and other features that will no doubt come in handy for future generations of apps.)

The current rumor is that Apple will launch an all-new operating system for its AR hardware, dubbed “rOS.” Apple is clearly betting very big on AR; but is this a platform that developers and users will actually flock to? And those developers who are interested may have to wait a year or two longer before the platform really kicks to life.