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Latest acquisition suggests Apple’s next big thing could be AR-powered smart glasses

Published Aug 30th, 2018 8:39AM EDT
Apple Glasses
Image: Martin Hajek

Taking a look at Apple’s recent earnings reports, one can’t help but notice that Apple’s R&D spending over the past few years has grown at a rather impressive clip. During the recent June quarter, for example, Apple spent $3.7 billion on R&D related expenditures. As a point of comparison, that figure is larger than the entirety of Apple’s 2012 R&D budget.

So just what is Apple up to, exactly? While Apple tends to keep quiet about upcoming products and technologies, one of the more intriguing rumors we’ve seen focuses on Apple eventually releasing a pair of AR-powered smart glasses sometime in the not too distant future. Just this month, reputed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo issued an investor note claiming that Apple in 2020 will release a pair of smart glasses with a “revolutionary UI” centered on an immersive AR experience. In light of that, Reuters is now reporting that Apple recently acquired a startup with expertise in manufacturing lenses for smart glasses.

According to the report, Apple has confirmed its acquisition of Akonia Hologrpahics, a Colorado-based startup.

Akonia said its display technology allows for “thin, transparent smart glass lenses that display vibrant, full-color, wide field-of-view images.” The firm has a portfolio of more than 200 patents related to holographic systems and materials, according to its website.

The Akonia acquisition is the first clear indication of how Apple might handle one of the most daunting challenges in augmented reality hardware: Producing crystal clear optical displays thin and light enough to fit into glasses similar to everyday frames with images bright enough for outdoor use and suited to mass manufacturing at a relatively low price.

Notably, Tim Cook late last year said that the display technology needed to make smart glasses a reality simply wasn’t mature enough. Perhaps Akonia is an answer to that problem.

“But today I can tell you the technology itself doesn’t exist to do [smart glasses] in a quality way,” Cook said last October. “The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face – there’s huge challenges with that. The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it’s not there yet.”

Additionally, the acquisition is particularly intriguing given that Apple, in stark contrast to some other tech companies, tends to make acquisitions only when it has plans to integrate a company’s technology into an existing or upcoming product line. Coupled with the myriad of other rumors we’ve seen involving Apple’s interest in AR-powered smart glasses, it stands to reason that these mythical glasses we’ve been hearing about for years might actually become a shipping product sometime in the next few years.

As for previous rumors we’ve seen regarding Apple smart glasses, a purported Foxconn insider last year divulged a number of interesting details about the product. In other words, you’ll definitely want to take these details with a huge grain of salt. That caveat aside, the insider claimed that Apple’s smart glasses will sport a resolution of 428×240, will incorporate a microphone for Siri support, and will also be able to take calls.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.