Apple augmented reality devices could help shape all future computers

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The eventual culmination of Apple augmented reality efforts will be AR contact lenses
Apple will eventually release augmented reality contact lenses, according to a trusted analyst.
Photo: Skitterphoto/Pexels CC/Cult of Mac

A respected Apple analyst just made a startling prediction about mixed reality/augmented reality: “We believe that MR/AR products could replace all display-equipped electronics in the long term,” wrote Ming-Chi Kuo in a note sent to investors Sunday.

Kuo said he expects Apple to play a big part in taking these emerging technologies mainstream. And he sees Cupertino making augmented reality contact lenses eventually, and a variety of AR products before then.

AR could be the default human-machine interface in the future

Part of Kuo’s job as an analyst for TF International Securities is to make projections about future technology. Often he looks no further ahead than the next iPhone, but Sunday’s missive covers at least a decade of change.

He thinks Apple is committed to augmented reality because “MR/AR will be the next critical technology to define the innovative human–machine interface for electronic products.” And according to the analyst, these next-gen interfaces will “redefine human behavior in creating, processing, and receiving information.”

For a look at what this prediction would mean in everyday life, a concept artist dreamed up a future Mac that uses AR to replace physical displays.

Kuo uses “MR/AR” in Sunday’s note, but both terms mean nearly the same thing. Each has its fans. Whatever the acronym, the tech involves combining computer-generated images with reality as a way to present additional information.

As the company that popularized the mouse and the multitouch screen, Apple has long experience redefining the human–machine interface, which Kuo says gives the company a leg up in taking AR mainstream.

Apple augmented reality products coming in three phases

Apple put a lidar scanner in the iPhone 12 and the iPad Pro for enhanced AR, but these haven’t exactly taken the world by storm. Kuo says Cupertino won’t be successful in this area until it makes “standalone devices designed for MR/AR applications.” But the analyst believes Apple is committed to rolling out dedicated AR/VR devices over the coming years, though not as quickly as some have predicted.

Kuo says the first will be a helmet. This will use “Sony’s Micro-OLED displays and several optical modules to provide a video see-through AR experience,” according to the analyst. But it might also include virtual reality capabilities and be integrated with Apple Arcade and Apple TV+.

A drawback of current VR helmets is that they are bulky. Kuo indicates Apple is trying to get its product down to between 0.22 pounds and 0.44 pounds (100 grams to 200 grams).

It will launch in 2022 for about $1,000. This price point falls in line with a previous prediction from analysts at JPMorgan Chase.

The next phase will be AR glasses. And despite promises that these will debut soon by other sources, Kuo sees them launching “in 2025 at the earliest.” There’s allegedly not even a prototype yet, and the analyst didn’t guess at a price.

The helmet is intended to be used in the home or workplace, but the AR glasses are for on the go. That’s why they might not replace future helmet versions in Apple’s product lineup.

And Apple augmented reality development won’t stop there. The eventual culmination of Apple’s efforts in this area will be AR contact lenses. They will “bring electronics from the era of ‘visible computing’ to ‘invisible computing,’” according to Kuo.

Of course, this product is well beyond current technology. That’s why the analyst will only predict, “We expect this product to be available after 2030.”