Apple said to be eyeing development of Google Glass-like eyewear

Image: Niels Epting/Flickr

Apple is reportedly considering developing digital eyewear that would connect wirelessly to the iPhone and may use augmented reality.

The gadget would present web-based information and images in the wearer’s field of vision, according to a Bloomberg report, similar to other augmented reality eyewear. Apple has discussed the matter with potential suppliers, but the device is still in the exploration phase. The company has ordered “small quantities of near-eye displays” for testing, but any potential device isn’t likely to come to market before 2018.

The device would be Apple’s first hardware offering in the augmented reality market, although Bloomberg rightly warned that the company tests a variety of products and services that never make it to market. Predictably, Apple declined to comment on the report.

But the news underscores Apple’s ongoing struggle to produce a compelling new product in the post-Steve Jobs era. The company hasn’t had a major new product introduction since the initial iPad launched in 2010, and Apple has also faced challenges in differentiating its iPhone in an increasingly competitive smartphone market. 

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Apple last month issued somewhat lackluster expectations for the holiday shopping quarter, leading investors to send the company’s stock down by almost $3 per share. And in its latest quarterly report, Apple showed a slight decline in iPhone shipments when compared with its performance during the same quarter a year ago: It sold 45.5 million iPhone handsets versus 48 million last year.

Growth in the worldwide smartphone market has slowed over the last year, and vendors are increasingly looking to virtual reality to give their high-end handsets an edge. Samsung made its Gear VR a focal point when it introduced the Galaxy S7 earlier this year, for instance, and Google last month announced its Daydream View headset and controller alongside the introduction of its new Pixel phone.

Augmented reality, of course, is different than virtual reality because it overlays web-based content onto a real-world field of vision rather than enclosing a user in a virtual world. Indeed, AR may face more difficult challenges in the market both in terms of technology and user behavior – as Google seemed to experience with its Google Glass, a high-profile venture into high-tech eyewear that failed to catch on beyond developers and the earliest of adopters.

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Google Glass was a consumer-focused project that may have been too ambitious for its own good. Analysts see ample opportunities in the enterprise market for augmented reality, and AR technology will continue to improve along with virtual reality. If Apple can eventually find ways to create a valuable, compelling user experience through AR – and do so at an acceptable cost – it could bring a powerful new weapon to the smartphone wars.