Before going any further, we should reiterate that the report suggesting Apple has cancelled its AR smartglasses project is still just that – a report. This has not come from Apple, but from a source that has claimed in the past to have intimate knowledge of what it is happening behind very guarded closed doors at Cupertino. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re not.
But if there is any grain of truth that Apple has disbanded the team that was working on its long-rumoured smartglasses, there will undeniably be some disappointment.
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That report (when translated) talks of design difficulties the company apparently faced in getting this project where it needed to be. Should that prove to be the case, I am glad shortcuts or compromises weren’t made to rush it out. That would not be Apple’s style.
Maybe there was a realisation that the tools it needed to create those smartglasses just aren’t good enough yet. The advancements just haven’t advanced enough (yet) to build the kind of augmented reality hardware that really pushes the boundaries.
Apple surely doesn’t want to get burned by having another cancellation on its hands
Maybe Apple just doesn’t want to have a Google Glass episode on its hands. Google may well have reinvented Glass for the workplace, but that’s not how it started out. Google wanted people to walk around with smartglasses on their faces. That happened in the end, but in factories and warehouses.
Apple surely doesn’t want to get burned by having another cancellation on its hands. A charging mat might not sit in the same innovative category as a pair of glasses that merges the virtual and real worlds, but the company’s AirPower was a high-profile blunder for the company, and not one it would want to ever risk repeating.
The departure of AR pioneer and HoloLens creator Avi Bar-Zeev from Apple earlier this year perhaps didn’t grab many headlines, but it now holds more significance. It was believed Bar-Zeev was working on an unannounced augmented reality headset.
Would the soon-to-be-departing Jony Ive have been involved in any possible new wearable device? We can only speculate. But you’d like to thing a man of such significance in Apple’s greatest accomplishments would have at least offered some advice. Ive has said his first client for his new design agency will be Apple, so he could still have hit part to play in getting a pair of Apple AR glasses out into the world, though that seems less likely now.
But just because something is cancelled doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen. Sometimes, it’s just not the right time. These are early days for smartglasses, even with startups like North or AR veterans like Vuzix on the scene. Apple isn’t missing out on a lucrative piece of the market. When Apple enters a new product category it does so with the aim of revolutionising it. Maybe it’s not ready to do that with smartglasses. The progress it’s already making with its ARKit platform proves it’s building the strong foundations that any future hardware will be able to embrace and take advantage of.
It’s a lot of maybes, but until we hear it from the horse’s mouth, maybe we should hold fire on assuming Apple’s AR dream is over. And if it is, for now, that might just be a good thing.