Rumors of Apple bringing augmented-reality glasses to market have been circulating for almost five years now, but they’ve mainly been speculating based on patents and Apple hiring up a lot of talent in the AR space. Now prominent Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has said that he believes Cupertino will begin manufacturing head-mounted display as early as the end of 2019, and Apple will roll them out in 2020.
In a note to investors, Kuo says the first generation of the glasses will be marketed as an iPhone accessory — so think AirPods you put on your eyes and less a stand-alone system. They’d be used primarily as a display while off-loading computing, networking, and GPS location to a users iPhone.
At a shareholders meeting in February, Tim Cook offered hope to investors battered by Apple’s shaky stock price by announcing that the company was “planting seeds” and “rolling the dice” on future products that will “blow you away.” Augmented-reality glasses would certainly fit the bill.
There are a lot of open questions about how the glasses would connect to an iPhone. If using conventional Bluetooth, limited data throughput could be an issue, and likely a big problem when trying to display real-time video. Earlier rumors suggested Apple was working on glasses that use the “WiGig” standard, which allows for much, much faster data connections, but would also mean that Apple’s glasses would only work with future versions of the iPhone (or Apple would be forced to roll out an adapter of some sort). Looking to the future, a 5G phone (also rumored to be coming from Apple in 2020) combined with 5G smart glasses would be a pretty powerful combination.
Regardless, Ming-Chi Kuo is well-sourced within the community of Apple vendors and has a pretty impressive track record when it comes to Apple predictions. His note to investors today will likely have the rest of the ecosystem of Apple analysts starting to carefully scrutinize Apple’s supply chain to see if his prediction stands up. Kuo’s timeline does match up with the timeline from Mark Gurman, another well-sourced Apple watcher, offered in 2017.
More broadly, as iPhone sales continue to lose momentum, Apple selling AR glasses that actually work as advertised would be a very visible differentiator between iOS and Android. It’s going to make 2020 a very interesting year for Cupertino watchers.