iPhone 12’s big Wi-Fi upgrade could pave the way for Apple Glasses

By

Apple glasses
Is that what 802.11ay Wi-Fi is really all about?
Photo: Martin Hajek

The next-generation Wi-Fi technology rumored to be coming to this year’s iPhone lineup could be used primarily to connect your Apple Glasses, a new report suggests.

The 802.11ay standard promises lightning-fast speeds and stellar connectivity, but it probably won’t replace the Wi-Fi standards you’re already familiar with in most cases.

Macotakara first reported Apple’s plans to bring 802.11ay Wi-Fi to its new iPhone lineup later this year. We explained at the time some of the benefits of the standard, like insane speeds of up to 176 Gbps.

That’s significantly faster than the Wi-Fi you’re using today. It’s even faster than the new Wi-Fi 6 standard manufacturers have just started bringing to market, which tops out at around 4.8 Gbps.

There is one problem with 802.11ay, however. It uses the unlicensed 60GHz frequency band to deliver those speeds, and that doesn’t have the kind of range you get from 2.5GHz or 5GHz bands.

So, why would Apple bring it to iPhone? Apple Glasses could be one reason.

Apple Glasses will require a great connection

Given its shorter range, and its inability to penetrate walls, 802.11ay Wi-Fi is best when it’s used to wirelessly connect two devices that are always used in close proximity. That’s when it really shines.

“The exciting part of 802.11ay is that it provides high enough bandwidth and low enough latency that it can be used to send data to high-resolution, high refresh rate displays,” explains MacWorld’s Jason Cross. “Like, say, virtual reality or augmented reality headsets.”

“Apple has long been rumored to be working on a headset or eyewear that does at least AR, maybe mixed AR and VR.”

Those rumors claim that Apple will rely on iPhone to do the heavy lifting when it comes to processing those AR and VR applications, negating the need to install expensive chipsets and sensors inside the headset itself. This would allow it to be lighter and more comfortable.

Your iPhone would them stream the video and audio to the display you have attached to your face. “An ultra-high speed, super low-latency connection like that provided by 802.11ay is a necessity to make that work,” Cross added.

When will we see Apple Glasses?

This might explain why Apple would adopt a Wi-Fi standard that is still very much in its infancy. The company is famously slow to embrace new wireless technologies — it waits until they’re widespread — which is why we had to wait for 3G, and why we’re still waiting for 5G.

It is just speculation for now, however. It is believed Apple Glasses won’t surface until 2023 at the earliest, which means it is highly unlikely Apple would be making preparations for them by making this year’s iPhone lineup compatible with 802.11ay Wi-Fi.

There could be another, more imminent use for the technology, though. Macotakara suggests Apple could also use it for AirTags, its upcoming gadget-tracking devices, that are expected to be far superior to existing products from the likes of Tile.