Apple’s biggest annual developer conference is starting with new features for iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches. But the main thing is a rumored product that is expected to be the next big thing from Apple. What’s the bus? And how soon can we expect it? Here’s a quick explainer of what we know and don’t know so far.
1. What is Apple’s biggest new product?
It is expected to be smart glasses that combine one or both ‘mixed’ reality and virtual reality. For ‘mixed reality’, think of a pair of smart glasses that let you at least see something that’s actually in front of you, but also adds a digital layer to your control. We actually do this kind of technology with our phones already – anyone who’s been messing with the funny face filters in Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok is actually using mixed reality technology. The same can be said for those who use apps like Ikea’s room furniture planner when pointing their smartphone around their living room. Or getting their phone to recognize text via camera. But so far, all this has mainly happened with phones and tablets. Apple’s basic idea is to move a portion of this over to smart glasses.
2. Is this Apple’s version of the Metaverse?
Very loosely, although it is likely to be quite different. For starters, Apple will probably launch with a number of ready-to-go apps and services like VR FaceTime calls. It is also expected to make it easier for other software firms to launch apps for their new systems, the same way it does for its iPhone App Store. By comparison, Meta (Facebook) has nothing to show for its Metaverse ecosystem, other than a handful of VR work apps.
3. What is the difference between this and a virtual reality headset?
VR headsets usually isolate you from the outside world—you can’t see anything around you when you wear it. This mostly means that they are only meant to be worn at home for things like gaming. It’s possible that Apple’s glasses could be wearable outdoors, if they allow users to see what’s around them. (It’s also possible that they will be more traditional virtual reality glasses.)
4. What is the difference between these and Facebook’s smart glasses?
Facebook’s model (‘Raban Stories’ to name it right) is pretty simple – they just take photos or videos and play music in your ears. They have no screen for you to watch digital things.
5. What do we really know about Apple’s smart glasses?
We expect to find out more at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) starting this week. It is generally understood that glasses will have an operating system similar to the iPhone or iPad. It is being called Reality OS. In general, Apple won’t talk about specs before it’s ready with a finished product. But a product with so much growth and interest cannot be kept completely silent. Generally credible analysts and Apple-focused industry insiders like Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman say the specs are almost ready to go.
6. When can we expect to see this from Apple?
An optimistic bet would be this Christmas, but it could more likely be 2023.
7. Will it be as big as the iPhone?
Nothing is as big as the iPhone. But if Apple’s new smart glasses can replicate the performance of something like the Apple Watch — now the best-selling watch of any kind — or the AirPods, which, if independent, would be a Forbes top 500 company in its own right, it could be a will be regarded as success. It is worth remembering that Apple has been planning this product for several years. Many of the features recently introduced on high-end iPhones and iPads, such as specialist lidar cameras, are expected to fit neatly into this new product category.
8. Can anything else be expected from this year’s WWDC?
There is a strong possibility that Apple will announce a newly-designed MacBook Air that looks and feels closer to the MacBook Pro. There is also a possibility that it will reveal an updated Mac Mini desktop computer. And of course many updates and new features will be announced for iPhones (iOS), iPads (iPadOS), Macs (MacOS), Apple TV (tvOS) and Apple Watch (WatchOS).