Apple has yet to enter either the VR headset or smart glasses market, but analysts at Morgan Stanley believe that the company is “approaching liftoff," noting a similarity in patenting between now and the period ahead of the original Apple Watch’s launch in 2015.
“Apple's patent portfolio is beginning to mirror the period prior to the Watch launch,” the Morgan Stanley report, seen by Investors.com (opens in new tab), reads.
There are two avenues Apple is said to be pursuing in the VR and AR space. First up, there’s an Apple VR and mixed reality headset, rumored to cost around $2,000 and likely rival Meta's new Project Cambria headset.
Then there’s a pair of Apple Glasses, which would we fully focused on augmented reality, which is reportedly due much later.
While it seems likely that Morgan Stanley is referring to the latter, there’s undoubtedly some crossover in terms of the functionality and patent applications. And there have certainly been plenty of AR patent applications from Apple of late, with everything from smart rings for hand gestures and vibrating socks to eye projection and iPhone privacy covered.
The Morgan Stanley report does highlight the extreme challenges involved in making an AR wearable a reality, but states that Apple is still in the home stretch. “The enormity of the technical challenge — compressing daylong battery, 5G, compute, cameras, lidar, projectors and wave guide lenses into a lightweight, attractive pair of glasses — is hard to overstate," the analysts wrote. "But we are approaching liftoff."
Overall, the investment bank has high hopes for Apple’s place in a market that has, until now, been a niche one. “Apple's entry into the eyewear market will be the game changer for all participants as the technology gets normalized and popularized,” the company said, stating that Apple could comfortably overtake Microsoft, Google and Meta, which have all dabbled in the AR/VR space.
“Apple has a long history of disrupting new markets and ultimately growing the addressable market size well beyond initial expectations,” it added.
That’s certainly true. The iPod kicked off the mass adoption of MP3 players at a time when they were niche, and the company repeated the feat with the iPhone six years later.
Eyewear is a far bigger challenge: nobody looks cool in a VR headset, and members of the Google Glass Explorers program were unaffectionaly christened “glassholes” (opens in new tab) due to their ostentatious eyewear.
But if Apple can make AirPods a must-have fashion accessory, despite initial mockery (opens in new tab), then you have to say the company at least has a fighting chance of helping AR glasses go mainstream.