If rumors are to be believed, we could be seeing augmented reality glasses from Apple sometime in 2020. That kind of hearsay is bolstered by a newly-released patent application, in which Apple describes a “head-mounted device with an adjustable opacity system.”
Originally filed in April 2018, Apple’s patent details a head-mounted display that may have a transparent display and provides “images to a user through an optical coupler.” Now that could be anything from a pair of smart glasses, to something closer to Google’s now-defunct Daydream virtual reality headset. That said, descriptors in the patent seem to hint at something more glasses-like in form.
In the patent’s abstract, Apple describes its headset might include an “adjustable opacity layer.” That layer would be inside the lenses and use ultraviolet light to control the lens’ transparency. That could block or dim light to up the contrast between projected images and real-world objects. Basically, Apple is describing something similar to transition lenses.
The problem with current smart glasses, such as the Focals by North, is that projected images can be hard to read in brightly lit areas. I wore a pair of Focals out on a sunny day and couldn’t see a thing until I attached a pair of clip on sunglasses. An adjustable opacity layer could potentially solve that problem, all while eliminating the need to buy another accessory.
The patent also references a potential light source that could selectively trigger the adjustable opacity layer. It also makes mention of a gaze tracking system, possibility using a camera, as well as a front-facing camera to capture images of a user’s environment.
How likely is it that we’ll see this reflected in a pair of Apple AR glasses? It’s hard to say. Tech companies file patents all the time, and not every patented technology makes its way into the final product. That said, it is looking increasingly likely that we’ll see a pair of AR glasses from Apple next year. Although there was no mention of Apple’s AR ambitions at last month’s iPhone event, an eagle-eyed developer spotted code in iOS 13 referencing a framework for stereo AR—a big hint that Apple is working on AR glasses. Meanwhile, back in 2017, reliable rumors noted that Apple planned to have a headset ready by 2019, with an expected shipping date of 2020. Even so, there’s a chance that the initial headset could be exclusively for developers—after all, it’s sort of hard to sell a new product if there are no killer apps to go along with it.