Apple wants to put a holographic display right next to your eyeballs

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Apple glasses
These concept Apple augmented reality glasses might have just taken a step closer to reality.
Photo: Martin Hajek

Rumors that Apple is hard at work on augmented reality glasses got some solid proof today. The company received a patent on a near-eye display design intended for just such an accessory.

And there’s an interesting mention of a “holographic optical element.”

Apple investigates near-eye displays

Apple patented the vaguely-named Optical Systems for Displays. But the description spells out the intended use: “An electronic device may include a display system for presenting images close to a user’s eyes.” The patent filing goes on to note “Devices such as virtual reality and augmented reality headsets may include near-eye displays with optical elements that allow users to view the displays.”

AR glasses present special challenges — the displays built into them have to be viewable at distances of an inch or less. Apple’s patent describes a system for accomplishing this task.

The language used in this filing is, of course, technical. But anyone can be interested by its mention that “the output coupler may redirect the light from the input coupler so that it exits the waveguide towards the user’s eyes. The input and output couplers may be formed from holographic optical elements such as thin holograms, volume holograms, or surface relief gratings.”

Reports of augmented-reality Apple glasses persist

Apple CEO Tim Cook frequently talks up AR as one of the most exciting technologies around today. And the 2020 iPad Pro and iPhone 12 may come with rear-facing 3D scanners to improve the augmented reality experience.

But that’s just the start. Respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of TF International Securities predicted Apple’s first-gen augmented reality glasses could come to market as soon as Q2 2020.

Less optimistically, a separate report indicated Apple will release its first AR headset in 2022, followed by a smaller device such as AR glasses in 2023.

But both of these are based on leaked, unconfirmed information. Even Apple’s patent on near-eye display technology isn’t absolute proof that augmented reality Apple Glasses will be released. But the company is undoubtedly considering it,