We’re not expecting Apple Glasses to be on people’s faces until 2022 at the earliest, but behind the scenes, the company has just cleared an important hurdle, according to a new report in The Information (opens in new tab). The lenses — very much the piece that makes or breaks smart glasses — have cleared the prototype stage and are entering trial production, according to a source in the know.
As you might expect, longterm Apple manufacturers Foxconn Technology is the one building the semi-transparent lenses for the upcoming AR glasses. And while this may sound like a fairly predictable phase in development, this is a major milestone for Apple Glass.
The Information’s source expressed that making AR lenses is particularly tough because they’re composed of multiple layers of extremely thin synthetic materials, each of which is extremely prone to bubbles and scratches during the production process. To get around the problem, lenses are to be made in dust-free areas, and the trial production lenses are a bit bigger than those found in your average pair of glasses.
Apparently Apple has been working on the lenses for around three years, which makes sense given Apple bought Akonia Holographics — a company that specializes in liquid crystal on silicon displays — back in 2018. According to The Information, the Apple Glass lenses "use a polarized system, similar to the technology in 3D movie glasses, which create the illusion of depth using stereoscopic images."
To be clear, this isn’t a sign that Apple is ahead of schedule with its AR plans. The intention is still to release an AR headset in 2022, followed by AR glasses in 2023, as The Information’s latest report explains. This is just a sign of the big challenges involved in making AR glasses that people are comfortable wearing for extended periods.
Apple Glass: Risk and reward
It’s very easy to be cynical about the prospect of AR glasses ever going mainstream, given the rocky reception that Google Glass received seven years ago. But if any company can make slightly unconventional wearables go mainstream, it’s Apple. Remember the initial mockery that AirPods received upon their reveal? Now, you can barely leave the house without seeing someone wearing a pair.
Still, this is a whole new type of device, and the utility is very much yet to be proven. Apple CEO Tim Cook is clearly a believer, and has put as much on record, telling an audience in Ireland that AR will make a huge impact. “My view is it’s the next big thing, and it will pervade our entire lives.”
If – and it’s a big ‘if’ – Cook is right, then Apple is also correct to try and get in on the ground floor with the technology to make AR glasses as sleek and comfortable as possible. After all, Apple didn’t make the first smartphone. Apple’s trick was to make the technology appealing enough to go mainstream.