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Kuo: Apple AR Glasses won’t launch until 2026 at the earliest

Published Apr 13th, 2023 10:28AM EDT
A person wearing Tooz AR glasses.
Image: Tooz

A report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman said in mid-January that Apple’s AR Glasses had been postponed indefinitely. These shouldn’t be confused with the mixed reality headset launching later this year, which is still on track to hit stores in 2023. Instead, the AR Glasses will look similar to traditional prescription glasses. But they’ll project augmented reality (AR) content on the retina, a feature that might lead to AR Glasses replacing the iPhone.

Well-known analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in a new research note that Apple still aims to make AR Glasses. The wearable will reportedly launch in 2026 at the earliest, possibly sporting a new lens technology called “metalens.”

Kuo’s Medium post says that Apple first plans to replace the plastic lens of the iPad Pro’s Face ID camera with metalens.

What is metalens?

The advantage of metalens is that it can reduce costs. But, more importantly, metalens could reduce the height of cameras that use plastic lenses. After the iPad, Kuo says Apple will bring metalens Face ID cameras to the iPhone in 2025 or 2026.

Metalens is an ultrathin optical lens containing nanostructured materials that manipulate light differently than traditional lenses. The new material supports high-resolution imagery and lets devices focus light differently than conventional lenses.

The following video from a company called Metalenz explains how metalens could significantly improve mobile cameras:

An immediate use of metalens seems to be 3D sensing capabilities that Face ID and Time-of-Flight (ToF) cameras require. 3D sensing is also a feature that AR glasses need.

Metalens might be a key tech for Apple AR Glasses

In addition to smartphones and tablets, Apple might use metalens for the AR Glasses, according to Kuo:

Apple’s metalens development has three long-term strategic goals: (1) reduce reliance on existing plastic lenses; (2) leverage metalens’ technological and cost advantages for product design and sales; and (3) facilitate the extensive use of metalens in Apple Glasses (not AR/MR headsets) which will go to mass production in 2026 or 2027 at the earliest.

Glasses-type head-mounted display devices are the killer application for metalens. If glasses-type head-mounted display devices achieve success, metalens shipments can experience explosive growth.

Assuming metalens deliver these breakthroughs, I envision a future where metalens use might make possible Face ID on MacBook. The size of Face ID camera module is what prevents Apple from adding Face ID to the MacBook.

Metalens use in the iPhone’s main camera could finally reduce or eliminate the bump. I’m just speculating here, as Kuo makes no mention of such uses for metalens cameras. If anything, metalens use in traditional cameras might need several years of additional innovations:

Factoring in the manufacturing process and algorithm progress, the earliest metalens could replace the lowest-end plastic lenses in existing cameras would be between 2028 and 2030. Metalens will not have any foreseeable impacts on the trend of existing plastic lens specification upgrades (e.g., upgrade from 7P to 8P, periscope, etc.). However, investors should be aware that over the next few years, metalens will gradually replace existing plastic lenses in 3D sensing applications.

That said, metalens seems like the kind of breakthrough Apple needs to make AR Glasses happen. Apple likely has additional problems to fix to make the wearable a reality. But Kuo casually mentioning a release date as early as 2026 is an exciting development.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.