The market for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) smartglasses will approach $7 billion by 2019, predicts the IDTechEx research group. Let’s face it: right now, if you were walking around in public with bulky smartglasses on, folks would simply think you were weird. However, those glasses will get slimmer and, yes, smarter, and I have no doubt Apple is watching the industry.
IDTechEx says that smartglasses all usher in new form factors in the portable electronics field. Already, some of the newer devices that have ignited the current interest in eye-worn computing are going above and beyond the conventional definition of a smart object. In effect, they’re wearable computers with a host of functionalities and specially designed apps that add new ways for the wearer to interact with the world along with smartphone capabilities, health tracking options and other features.
If/when Apple makes its own smartglasses (they’ll probably call the product Apple Glasses, but I’m kinda fond of “iGlasses”), they’ll doubtless use gesture recognition. Gesture-based interfacing with smartglasses is enabled by components such as HD cameras, LEDs, positioning/location/infrared sensors, etc., which allow devices to “perceive” three-dimensional objects and their depth.
They monitor movement and direction, capture gestures and even track the wearer’s head and eye, in order to interpret all this input as control commands through specialized algorithms. A lot of the technology already exists in a slight different incarnation in smartphones and smartwatches that include a lot of those functionalities already, according to IDTechEx.
When it comes to smartglasses, sleek design is a significant factor, notes the research group. The look and feel of the device should respect current fashion trends as much as trends in electronics. A pair of smartglassesis aiming to become a piece of apparel worn on a daily basis and, as one, it should not feel out of place or “ugly” when worn. This is certainly an area that Apple would excel in.
IDTechEx notes that smartglasses are initially being made available to developers that are creating an ecosystem of applications, dreaming up the ways people would want to use their smartglasses and making them possible. Again, Apple has a leg up in this area thanks to its iOS/OS X ecosystem and app stores.
The company has been hiring engineers to work in the VR field. Apple has also obtained a patent for VR goggles that would use an iPhone as the display unit. The invention is for a "head-mounted display apparatus for retaining a portable electronic device with display." It seems to involve connecting an iPhone (or perhaps an iPod touch) to a GoPro-ish head mount for viewing media on a private display.
The invention would allow users to couple and decouple a portable electronic device with a separate head-mounted device. The iDevice could be physically coupled to the head-mounted device such that the device can be worn on the user's head. The iDevice may be operatively coupled to the head-mounted device such that the device and head mounted device can communicate and operate with one another. Each device "may be allowed to extend its features and/or services to the other device for the purpose of enhancing, increasing and/or eliminating redundant functions between the head-mounted device and the portable electronic device."
Apple says that the advantage of the invention is that, in addition to being unwieldy, the coupled system" often utilizes redundant features, which are not necessary when using the devices together." The patent filing doesn't mention virtual reality or 3D applications, but that would seem to be a logical extension of such an invention.
It’s probably not a matter of if Apple plans its own smart glasses, but a matter of when.