Apple’s biggest annual developer conference is kicking off with new features for iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches. But the main talking point is a rumoured product that is expected to be Apple’s next big thing. Just what is it? And how soon might we expect it? Here’s a quick explainer on what we know and don’t know so far.
1. What is Apple’s big new product?
It’s expected to be smart glasses that combine one or both of ‘mixed’ reality’ and virtual reality. For ‘mixed reality’, think about a pair of smart glasses that lets you see at least some of what is actually in front of you, but also adds a digital layer for you to control. We actually do this kind of technology already with our phones — anyone who’s messing around with the funny face filters in Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok is actually using a form of mixed reality technology. The same can be said for those who use apps like Ikea’s room furniture planner when pointing their smartphones around their living room. Or getting their phone to recognise text through the camera. But so far, it’s all mainly been with phones and tablets. Apple’s basic idea is to move a chunk of this over to smart glasses.
2. Is this Apple’s version of the Metaverse?
Very loosely, although it’s likely to be quite different. For a start, Apple will probably launch with a lot of ready-to-go apps and services, such as VR FaceTime calls. It is also expected to make it easy for other software firms to launch apps for its new system, in the same way it does for its iPhone App Store. By comparison, Meta (Facebook) doesn’t have anything yet much to show for its Metaverse ecosystem, other than a handful of VR work apps.
3. What’s the difference between this and virtual reality headsets?
VR headsets typically close you off from the outside world — you can’t see anything around you when you’re wearing one. That mostly means they’re only worn at home for things like gaming. It’s possible that Apple’s glasses may be wearable outside, if they allow users to see what’s around them. (It’s also possible they will be more conventional virtual reality glasses.)
4. What’s the difference between these and Facebook’s smart glasses?
Facebook’s model (‘Rayban Stories’ to give the correct name) is much simpler — they only take photos or videos and play music into your ears. They don’t have any screens to let you seen digital things.
5. What do we actually know about Apple’s smart glasses?
We hope to find out more at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), kicking off this week. It’s generally understood that the glasses will have an operating system like an iPhone or an iPad. This is said to be called RealityOS. In general, Apple won’t talk about the glasses before they’re ready with a finished product. But a product with this much development and interest can’t be kept completely quiet. Most of the usually-reliable analysts and Apple-focused industry insiders, such as Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, say that the glasses are almost ready to go.
6. When can we expect to see this from Apple?
An optimistic bet would be this Christmas, but it may more likely be 2023.
7. Will this 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 AirPods, which would be a Forbes top 500 company in itself if it were independent, it will be regarded as a success. It’s worth remembering that Apple has been planning this product for several years. Several of the recently-introduced features on high-end iPhones and iPads, such as the specialist Lidar cameras, are expected to fit neatly into this new product category.
8. Is there anything else to expect from this year’s WWDC?
There’s a strong chance that Apple will announce a newly-designed MacBook Air, which looks and feels closer to the MacBook Pro. There’s also a possibility it will reveal an updated Mac mini desktop computer. And of course there will be many updates and new features announced for iPhones (iOS), iPads (iPadOS), Macs (MacOS), Apple TV (tvOS) and the Apple Watch (WatchOS).