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Will Apple Glass transform the way we live?

Image courtesy [Unsplash, Jessica Lewis]

Roar writer Scarlett Yu on how Apple’s next major release, Apple Glass, could revolutionise society and human interaction

With the world increasingly advancing into the era of 5G, there are several opportunities for technological advancement. 5G not only stands as a catalyst in foregrounding the usage of novel technologies, but also for the emergence of augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR). For those who do not know, AR provides a modified version of the world by overlaying it with digital information while VR immerses people in a computer generated experience completely closed off from the real world.

The network-enhanced power of 5G has infused global technology companies with an stream of opportunities to enhance and further transform the social environment. One could already envision a not-so distant future shaped by the forces of newly-developed devices that take advantage of these transformative technologies.

Of course, this may sound like science fiction for many people, perhaps due to their inability to imagine their presence being surrounded by dynamic virtual displays or augmented visions. However, that may change this year, as several leaks revealed that major technology companies are drawing up large-scaled plans that would incorporate AR or VR powered systems into their innovative designs.

Most notably, Apple has been preparing for the launch of the Apple Glass, a pair of AR-enhanced glasses. This may not sound like a new idea as some may be aware that a similar product was made available early to the public a few years ago, Google Glass. However, this was a commercial failure due to several shortcomings. 

When Google Glass presented 2D projections of computerised data before the wearer’s eyes, such as the weather, text messages, or map directions, their heads-up display often blocked the vision of the wearer preventing them from seeing what was physically around them. The level of obstruction incurred by these digital displays could considerably effect one’s social awareness. The glasses didn’t try to solve or point to the problems inherent in an AR wearable device. Alarmingly, the most problematic part of Google Glass was in the cameras embedded into the lens, which provoked a series of security concerns.

According to rumours, Apple Glass will try to acknowledge and solve these issues. Reliable sources have suggested that Apple has delved into intensive research and product development of mixed reality headsets since 2015. Their CEO, Tim Cook, sees AR as a more important feature than VR because the technological appliances that it offers are extremely close to the everyday experience. He noted his aspirations and excitement for AR in a New York Times podcast, saying “I’m already seeing AR take off in some of these areas with use of the phone. And I think the promise is even greater in the future.”

Cook firmly asserted the significance of AR being a crucial part of Apple’s future. Therefore, it is certainly fair to assume that people’s everyday lives could be enriched with a compelling force of augmented experiences and virtual features very soon. In thinking beyond the scope of mobile devices, AR could essentially transform the way people interact and access an extensive range of activities. Eminently, as technology improves with increased expertise and intelligence, it will inevitably permeate into various sections of society, such as digital communications, education, healthcare, entertainment, and retail businesses.

Over the last couple of years, Apple has made a considerable number of acquisitions and filed patents from various AR and VR companies in order to perfect the construction of Apple Glass. All of the processing and networking procedures will be based on the iPhone, as the Apple glass will be used as a complementary product to the existing mobile device in a similar fashion to the Apple Watch.

According to a Bloomberg report, this lightweight eyewear is “expected to synchronize with a wearer’s iPhone to display things such as texts, emails, maps, and games over the user’s field of vision.” The glasses are further improved by an impressive list of specifications: high resolution displays, 3-dimensional scanning, and advanced human detection. The glasses will likely operate through an iOS-based operating system known as “Reality Operating System” or ROS. ROS will use specific sensor techniques to sense precise detection of hand gestures or any bodily movement. In the same way Apple TV and Apple Arcade are implemented with specially-designed apps, the Apple Glass will also be supported exclusively through an independent app store which provides third party apps dedicated to AR.

Seeing how much technological complexity are weaved into the Apple Glass, a lot of people may be wondering how exactly it works. Firstly, one should be aware of Apple’s continuing advances in accessing AR software interfaces with a range of control methods: touch panels, voice activation through Siri, head movements, or possibly eye reflexes. These methods could naturally track real-world fluctuations and engage with AR in an intuitive way. These are the concepts Apple are currently exploring and experimenting.

In addition, what makes all these applications and features come to life is a technological breakthrough Apple made when it launched iPhone 12 Pro in October last year: the LiDAR sensor. The “Light detection and Ranging” sensor, enables highly precise measurements of the environment using reflected light as a mode of calculation. In doing so, these measurements could produce accurate 3D information about the targeted objects. This technology creates boundless AR possibilities because the sensor could precisely capture the shapes and textures of real-life surroundings, even in the dark.

With the instalment of a LiDAR sensor into the Apple Glass, it fundamentally compensates for the lack of cameras and authenticates many notable appliances driven primarily through functions of AR. Whether it’s the automatic manifest of data during an augmented shopping experience, 360 degree displays of a movie exhibition in the backdrop of real world surroundings, or the creation of interactive virtual environments during video conference meetings, LiDAR makes them possible. Its attention to detail and swift transformation of augmented situations are done by an masterful image scanning and virtual positioning. As a result, when one puts on the Apple Glass, it’s like seeing an augmented version of the iPhone.

The Apple Glass is currently in trial production and not expected to be released until 2023, with the Covid pandemic possibly pushing Apple to postpone its production. Yet, it is certainly surfacing under the public spotlight in the next few years. Plus, the pair of AR glasses is likely to priced at around $499, or approximately £410; a relatively inexpensive Apple product. A glimpse at the Apple Glass could be unveiled at the 2021 WWDC event during June.

For now, there are still some concerns for how the Apple Glass will reconstruct and reshape the way people socialise and experience popular culture. Deemed as the most transformative Apple device to be launched in years, the Apple Glass could very much redefine the modes of computing and communication as the first mainstream wearable device in history which incorporates AR technology into its core software.

In fact, a secret Apple presentation published by The Info in November 2019 stated Apple’s ambitions in drastically changing how society functions and we interact with each other with Apple Glass. It is speculated that the Apple Glass could ultimately replace iPhones as its technologies improve to the extent where people no longer need their smartphone to when accessing an application or information.

This speculation, though sounding completely bizarre, is reminiscent of Apple’s product launch history. Remember how Apple’s initial release of first generation iPhones in 2007 stirred up an instant public sensation and eventually prevailed in the global mobile market as an indispensable product of commodity? The same could go for Apple Glass. As Tim Cook has said, the core goal of the company are articulating augmented reality to be more critical to the future than virtual reality. Indeed, one of the admirable traits of AR is rooted in the idea of improved experience of digital worlds, not to generate as a replacement. It is able to extend to a wide variety of practical appliances while not completely engulfing the experience of real-world scenarios.

Undeniably, this dramatic change in platforms of social contact and communications still has a long way to go, considering how much technical complexity is involved and the long adapting process of societies. Nonetheless, Apple has always been known for turning complexity into simplicity, transforming the unachievable into reality. It will be worth a wait to see yet another astonishing societal restructuring sparked by innovation.

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