Apple Glass is one of the most mysterious mixed reality initiatives coming to market, but how its interface will work might be less of an enigma thanks to the discovery of a new patent.
The rumored AR glasses may be capable of transforming any ordinary surface into a navigational display, complete with a control panel and touch toggles. AppleInsider (opens in new tab) spotted the patent and pointed out Apple filed the patent for this system in 2016, but the USPTO (opens in new tab) just published it on its database this week.
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The patent describes a "A natural way for humans to interact with (real) objects is to touch them with their hands."
"[Screens] that allow detecting and localizing touches on their surface are commonly known as touch screens and are nowadays common part of, e.g., smartphones and tablet computers."
In other words, Apple may be looking to recreate the touchscreen experience of an iPhone or iPad on a surface like a table or textbook through infrared sesnors. Though there's no direct mention in the patent of a headset device, it reads like it could be a good fit for for the Starboard operating system (or glassOS) experience.
Deploying this system could require Apple Glass to support gesture controls in some capacity, which we've heard leaker Jon Prosser mention as a feature in the project's pipeline.
Apple Glass interface alternatives
Another solution to navigating a real-world touchscreen may be a companion haptic wearable, like a ring or set of gloves. Apple has earned patents for kind of device in the past.
For example, we've seen an expandable ring that could function as a controller of some kind for certain mobile devices. Though we previously speculated the Apple smart ring might act as an accessory for a future iPhone (although probably not the iPhone 12), we could just as easily see it applied to the company's upcoming head gear.
We won't know more about Apple Glass's inner workings until we near an actual release date. One reliable analyst said Apple Glass could come as soon as next year, while another longtime source for Apple product releases believes the launch won't happen until 2022. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman said the earliest we'll see them is 2023.
There are complications of cramming advanced tech into tiny, attractive frames that tech companies haven't quite solved yet. Apple could be the first to introduce a capable pair of smart glasses people will actually want to wear to market, but it could be a long while before we see them.