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Apple’s biggest new product since the iPhone may have just been uncovered

Published Jan 10th, 2017 8:20AM EST
Apple Smart Glasses

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For a company as prone to secrecy as Apple, Tim Cook over the past few months has been uncharacteristically effusive when discussing Augmented Reality. This past October, for example, Cook during an earnings conference call enthusiastically said that Apple was “high on” the technology. One month earlier, Cook said that Augmented Reality is more intriguing than Virtual Reality because it allows people to talk to each other and see other information while remaining present in a conversation.

While Apple’s plans in the AR space remain murky, there are growing reports that the company is planning to release a pair of Augmented Reality equipped glasses by 2018, if not sooner . Most recently, Robert Scoble posted a note on Facebook claiming that Apple will release a pair of Augmented Reality glasses via a partnership with Carl Zeiss AG.

Exclusive news: Apple and Zeiss working together on augmented reality optics.

For the nerds who were at CES and not paying attention to all my posts.

A Zeiss employee confirmed the rumors that Apple and Carl Zeiss AG are working on a light pair of augmented reality/mixed reality glasses that may be announced this year. (I thought it was next year but now that I saw this I believe it will happen this year).

And that explains why there was no augmented reality in Zeiss’s booth even though it was right in the middle of the AR area.

For those unfamiliar, Carl Zeiss is a well-regarded German company with decades of expertise developing a wide array of advanced optical systems, from surgical microscopes to eyeglass lenses.

While you might naturally want to take Scoble’s proclamation with a grain of salt, it’s worth noting that we’ve heard similar rumors from even more reputable sources over the past few months. A Bloomberg report from November of last year, for example, relayed that Apple had already ordered “small quantities of near-eye displays from one supplier for testing.”

Just two weeks prior to that, Ming-Chi Kuo — who perhaps has the most solid track record with respect to Apple rumors — issued a research note claiming that Apple is prepping to release AR technology that will leapfrog the competition by three to five years. Kuo isn’t prone to hyperbole so his statements in this regard certainly raised a few eyebrows while generating quite a bit of intrigue.

Notably, it’s no secret that Apple today has a sizable and growing team of engineers and researchers with varied and deep experience across both virtual and augmented reality.

Per a Financial Times report from last year:

The secret research unit includes hundreds of staff from a series of carefully targeted acquisitions, as well as employees poached from companies that are working on next-generation headset technologies including Microsoft and camera start-up Lytro, according to people familiar with the initiative.

The company’s latest acquisition in the area is Flyby Media, an augmented reality start-up that uses let mobile devices “see” the world around them. Fly-by’s team worked closely with Google in developing software for its 3D positioning technology Project Tango.

What’s more, Apple over the past few months has made a number of high-profile hires in the AR space. This past September, for example, Apple hired Yury Petrov, formerly of Occulus VR, and  Zeyu Li, an engineer from the Augmented Reality-centric startup Magic Leap.

With the iPhone having celebrated its 10th anniversary this week, it’s only natural to see some tech observers wonder aloud about what Apple’s next big innovation might be. From what we can gather thus far, it may very well be in the AR space.

For what it’s worth, here’s what Scoble posted about the upcoming iPhone 8 a few months back.

More on iPhone 8. Just had a source that I trust tell me it is a clear piece of glass. With the compute in a strip at the bottom.

Translation it does Mixed Reality. VR, AR, and AI.

He also talked to me about Siri. Asks “why did sell to Samsung? I know the founders didn’t want to do that.”

So Apple showed them the new Siri for mixed reality and the game was over.

As we said back in October, not a chance.

So Scoble isn’t typically the most reliable source for Apple rumors, but there’s no denying that there’s a whole a lot of AR-related smoke that isn’t coming solely from Scoble.

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.