Project StarBoard: New Evidence of Apple AR Glasses Emerges

An AR glasses concept by 3D artist Martin Hajek
(Image credit: idropnews/Martin Hajek)

Despite rumors to the contrary, it seems that Apple is still working on its augmented reality glasses. In fact, StarBoard — the programming framework that supports the device — has been left untouched in the final version of iOS 13 and iOS 13.1 beta.

Apple developer Steve Throughton-Smith and 9to5mac’s Guilherme Rambo found the whole StarBoard system shell that runs stereo augmented reality apps in iOS 13.1 beta 3 and iOS 13.0 golden master, the final version of iOS 13 that will ship on September 19. This follows the discovery of some AR glasses evidence found nine days ago.

Apple even left a readme file in the iOS 13 golden master directed to its employees, telling them how to run the StarBoard apps without using its AR headset:

(Image credit: Apple/Steve Throughton-Smith)

This confirms a March 2019 report by the most reliable Apple analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo

“Kuo says that the glasses won’t have their own graphics processor or CPU, rather relaying on a connected iOS device to drive the AR experience. Apple’s AR glasses will only carry a display, camera sensors, and wireless connectivity electronics, making them lighter and less battery hungry than Hololens 2 and other headsets. Also, it will make them less expensive than the competition.”

But what’s even more interesting is Throughton-Smith's observations on StarBoard, which had let him to confirm some previous rumors about the Apple AR glasses' functions. “The picture of Apple’s AR efforts from iOS 13 is very different to what one might expect,” he said in a tweet yesterday. “It points to the headset being a much more passive display accessory for iPhone than a device with an OS of its own. The iPhone seems to do everything; ARKit is the compositor.”

(Image credit: idropnews/Martin Hajek)

Throughton-Smith also noticed that “Apple had the time to rip out all the Apple Tag references in iOS 13, but somehow managed to leave all the AR headset subsystems in.” Who knows why Apple has left such detailed references to a highly secret device. Could it be because the cat is out of the bag and they want to build up excitement amongst the developer community? Perhaps an official announcement is imminent, as suggested by Kuo? Or did they left it because the project was actually frozen for now or even cancelled?

Whatever it is, the StarBoard project left intact in iOS 13 just adds to a mountain of Apple AR glasses evidence that has been piling up for years now, which includes de purchase of video projection company Akonia Holographics, 3D depth sensor developer PrimeSense, computer vision company Regain, AR headset maker Vrvana, and eye-tracking firm SensoMotoric Instruments. Most recently, Kuo claimed that Apple may start manufacturing these devices “as soon as the end of 2019.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this all a lot more exciting than yesterday’s presentation, which was an utterly boring parade of marketing words to dress up a clear lack of phone innovation. Augmented reality, on the other hand, that’s something to get excited about.

Jesus Diaz

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story and wrote old angry man rants, among other things. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce, and currently writes for Fast Company and Tom's Guide.