Innovation

Apple may release AR headset in 2020: Can it compete?

Apple's rumored augmented reality headset will run on a new chip and operating system, according to a Bloomberg report.

Apple will have the technology for an augmented reality (AR) headset ready by 2019, and may ship the product as early as 2020, according to a Bloomberg report.

Apple's headset will have its own display and run on a new chip and operating system, according to sources cited by Bloomberg—a change from the current AR and virtual reality (VR) headsets on the market, which use a smartphone to power the devices and act as a screen.

Apple's development timeline is fast-paced and could change, according to the sources. As of the time of this writing, Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

AR could help Apple re-energize its fan base and re-establish its mobile leadership, according to TechRepublic's Conner Forrest. The tech giant has certainly been ramping up its work in the AR space over the last year. In June, Apple launched its augmented reality developer kit, ARKit. A native part of iOS 11, Apple claimed that its combination of APIs, natural language processing capabilities, and third-party frameworks made it the "largest AR platform in the world."

SEE: Executive's guide to the business value of VR and AR (free ebook)

In September, at the launch of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller touted it as the "first smartphone designed for AR." The newly-released iPhone X also includes an infrared camera to support augmented reality, and the ability to record 4K video at 60fps and 1080p at 240fps.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has told media outlets that he considers AR to be as potentially revolutionary as the smartphone. "We're already seeing things that will transform the way you work, play, connect and learn," Cook said in the most recent Apple earnings call, according to Bloomberg. "Put simply, we believe AR is going to change the way we use technology forever."

However, Cook also recently told The Independent that the technology needed to build such a product the right way simply "doesn't exist," and that Apple is more concerned with being the best on the market than the first.

According to Bloomberg, the chip powering the headset will be similar in concept to the "system-on-a-package" component in the Apple Watch, which can fit more components like graphics processors into a smaller area than standard processors, and consume less power. The new operating system—called "rOS" for "reality operating system"—is based on iOS, Bloomberg reported.

While the company has not yet finalized how users will control the headset and start apps, it is researching options such as touch panels, Siri voice activation, and head gestures, according to Bloomberg. Engineers are also prototyping a number of apps, including mapping, texting, virtual meeting rooms, and 360-degree video.

"Head-mounted displays will serve as a two-way stepping stone for the next stage of human-computer interactions alongside multi-modal interactions such as touch, gesture, movement, voice—all with AI enabled components (think Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, Alexa)," Gartner analyst Tuong H. Nguyen told TechRepublic. "As such, this is why so many players like Apple, Google, and Facebook, are looking very closely at augmented reality."

Indeed, in October, Microsoft and Samsung released a Windows Mixed Reality headset called the Samsung HMD Odyssey—a premium AR headset that could be a strong option for businesses looking to explore the technology. And the Facebook-owned Oculus recently launched an Oculus for Business bundle and a less expensive Oculus Go headset for enterprise use.

SEE: Virtual and augmented reality policy (Tech Pro Research)

To be competitive in the space, Apple will likely focus on marketing, Nguyen said, and positioning their product in a way that users both understand it and want to use it.

Apple will also likely play up the user experience—"bringing together technology in such a way that's interesting, useful and easy to use," Nguyen said.

This is likely why the company introduced the ARKit when it did. "The technology had matured to a point where they felt they could demonstrate something interesting and useful and present it in a way that is easy for users to do," Nguyen said. "Not only that, they tightly integrated it with their operating system and hardware to give the best possible experience for their users."

Apple's AR headset will likely follow a similar path. "This means that they will not only introduce an head-mounted display, but show us a number of different applications that have developed that Apple feels best demonstrates the strengths of their tech offering" Nguyen said.

In the meantime, Apple plans to release a new version of the ARKit software tools as early as 2018, Bloomberg reported, which could help developers create software that remembers accurately where a digital object is placed in a virtual space, and make it easier to create AR games for multiple players.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. Apple will have the technology for an augmented reality (AR) headset ready by 2019, and may ship the product as early as 2020, according to a Bloomberg report.

2. Apple's headset will have its own display and run on a new chip and operating system, marking a change from the current AR and VR headsets on the market, which use a smartphone to power the devices and act as a screen.

3. To be competitive in the growing AR and VR space, Apple will likely focus on the user experience, experts say.

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Image: iStockphoto/max-kegfire

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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