For the most part, analysts have been expecting Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to launch a set of augmented reality (AR) glasses sometime between 2019 and 2020. Well, Bloomberg is out with a fresh report this morning that corroborates that potential timeline, saying that the Mac maker is indeed targeting 2020 to ship the forthcoming AR product, while the underlying technology should be ready around 2019.
Apple is developing a new chip and an entirely new operating system to power the device, according to the report, and the AR glasses will have a dedicated display. The 2020 target ship date is "very aggressive" and could easily change. It's worth noting that the iPhone X was originally planned for 2018, but Apple was able to pull that forward to 2017.
About that custom chip and OS
The iPhone maker now designs more custom silicon than ever before as its world-class chip engineering team continues to churn out new chips for a wide range of purposes, with the most meaningful recent addition to the lineup being a custom GPU. The whole reason why Apple embarked upon engineering its own chips in the first place was to take control of its road map, freeing it from relying on third-party chip suppliers (Mac refreshes are largely contingent upon Intel's road map, for instance).
The benefits of that strategy may also manifest in the AR headset, with the new chip being similar to the "system-on-a-package" chip that currently powers Apple Watch. The most recent version of that processor is the S3 in Apple Watch Series 3. The tech titan can use what it learns from Apple Watch when developing future wearable devices.
The new OS is known internally as "rOS," which stands for "reality operating system." rOS is expectedly based on iOS. Apple is still trying to figure out the best way to interact with the headset, according to the report, and is considering everything from touch panels to voice controls with Siri to head gestures.
Tech takes time
The report mostly jibes with CEO Tim Cook's recent interview with The Independent, in which Cook said, "But today I can tell you the [AR] technology itself doesn't exist to do that in a quality way." There are considerable technical challenges with getting the display quality right, with Cook specifically referencing field of view as an area that's "not there yet." There are also battery life considerations.
Apple won't pull the trigger on an AR product until the underlying technology has matured to the point where it can deliver AR "in a quality way." Cook added, "Most technology challenges can be solved, but it's a matter of how long." It seems feasible that AR technology could get there in two to three years, with Apple aggressively pushing development and innovation.