The supposed “Apple Glass” headset may be a one-off hardware product, but the steady stream of research looks more like Apple intends to use AR as a sea change in the way we use all of our devices.
Whether Apple’s first AR product turns out to be “Apple Glass” or something else, it won’t be delivered as a hobby device like the Apple TV. It won’t even look remotely like AirPods or HomePods, which might integrate with the existing Apple Music service, but are otherwise stand-alone products.
Instead, when Apple AR hits, it’ll eventually hit big. Maybe it’ll launch with a single device at first, but that device will bring something that resembles its own ecosystem – and is at least as comprehensive as iOS today.
Apple didn’t start with the idea of making an AR device and seeing where it goes. The company has spent years researching every possible aspect, designing new systems and devices. And he patented everything along the way.
New patent filings this week are just the latest of countless filings, but they also provide a glimpse into Apple’s depth and reach.
One, filed in January 2020 but revealed this week, addresses the big questions regarding “the display mounted on the head and the facial interface thereof”. It covers the basics of attaching a unit to a wearer’s face and then displaying graphic content on it.
Detail showing a method of comfortably attaching a helmet to a user’s head
Separating the unit and display into related but different concerns seems to be the key to this app. The same goes for the head-mounted display to rest on the user’s head safely and comfortably.
“The facial interface is coupled to the screen and engages the user’s face to support the screen on it,” the patent states. “The facial interface can influence the comfort of the user, especially when worn for long periods of time, and the stability of the screen mounted on the user’s head.”
It’s about installing a head mounted device and keeping it safe. “The facial interface includes an upper portion that engages a user’s forehead and side portions that engage regions of the user’s temple,” the application continues. “The facial interface converts the forward force applied to the upper part by the forehead into an inward force applied by the lateral parts to the temple regions.”
So where regular glasses might just need to be well balanced on the ears, this patent offers a tighter fit that would keep any attached screen stable. While describing it as being adjustable, and saying that it is supposed to “comfortably engage the user’s facial structures”, Apple also refers to it as “a light joint”.
This app is credited to the same three inventors listed on the recent “Apple Glass” stress measurement. This includes Kristi E. Bauerly, whose previous work includes a parent regarding “an improved form of headphones”.
Computer generated reality
Likewise, “Computer-Generated Reality Platform” is another broad patent application, this time concerned with almost the opposite question in RA, the question of what is shown to the user. It’s specifically about creating immersive, high-quality images, which have also been addressed in previous Apple patents.
“As the capacity of electronic devices increases and their ability to produce high-quality visual displays improves, applications become more and more immersive,” says this application. “One example is the growing consumer demand for computer-generated reality applications (eg, ‘mixed reality’ and ‘virtual reality’).”
Part of this application covers procedural issues related to the sequence of events when a device responds to “a request to launch a first application in the three-dimensional computer-generated environment”.
Detail showing an example of a real environment augmented by AR
Most of the rest of the app is about general descriptions of what constitutes a Mixed Reality (MR) system, in which a user sees the real world as well as the virtual objects placed in it. However, Apple is also keen to enable additional features – and ensure privacy.
“Such techniques can improve user experience, increase privacy and security, and enable computer-generated reality interfaces (eg, 3D interfaces) with advanced functionality,” he says.
This app is credited to six inventors, including Timothy R. Oriol, most recently listed on Apple’s plans for a virtual privacy screen.
Apple’s big concerns about augmented reality
Apple wants to bring AR to market as a fully elaborate and practical proposition, with useful and desirable products. But throughout the many patents filed or granted in recent years, he has also worked continuously to integrate AR into his existing ecosystem. And with his other main desires.
Most important is confidentiality. While some patent applications, such as this one, directly address the issue, they all refer to it. All. Appleiphonestop doesn’t have a single patent that doesn’t include at the very least a nod to the existence of privacy concerns.
Invariably, they also spend time showing how a given AR project addresses problems or, very often, presents solutions itself.
However, every now and then another Apple issue pops up and this one is rather more secretive. Apple is very outspoken about its privacy policies, and Tim Cook has frankly admitted wanting to pursue AR, but he never talks about “Apple Car.”
It is the project that is so big that Apple is regularly forced to file legal documents concerning it, without even acknowledging its existence. He also files patents on just about everything from autonomous driving mechanisms to measuring the driver’s stress level by the car.
Augmented reality, Apple Car and “Project Titan”
“Apple Car” and Apple AR intersect several times in this slew of patents. The company even looked at how passengers could wear “Apple Glass” or similar devices on the road – without getting sick.
Detail of Apple’s latest patent application for AR in the Apple Car windshield
Along with the patent applications revealed this week for the headset and how the entire AR environment is presented to users, Apple has also filed one regarding windshields. It has done this before, with a 2018 filing regarding showing AR on a car windshield while driving, for example.
The last is about taking what a driver sees through the windshield and then representing it as virtual AR objects on a car’s dashboard.
“While traveling … users can often refer to their surroundings when making plans or requesting informationon about the world around them,” the patent application states. “However, it is often difficult to present the requested informationon to the users of the stand-alone machine in a manner that is intuitive to the users, i.e. by presenting the informationon of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional display.”
“In addition, often the indications of users to reference objects in the world around the machine can be imprecise, especially as the machine moves in the environment,” continues the application. “Thus, it can be difficult to accurately determine which object in the world the machine user is attempting to receive informationon about.”
If the car’s dashboard can display a representation of buildings on the road, for example, it may be easier for a passenger to say “turn left on the next block” and be understood.
Apple augmented reality everywhere
There is no doubt that any company working on AR products would love to see them widely adopted. In Apple’s case, however, it feels like AR is going to come right out of the door and instantly become a part of everything the company does.
Apple can take the time to put all of these disparate issues together, and Apple has taken the time to work on every aspect of AR imaginable.
Maybe only Apple could bring an entire ecosystem to market all at once. But certainly, and soon, suddenly we’re going to be wondering why we bought devices that don’t use AR.