Like Apple Watch before it, Cupertino’s much-anticipated mixed-reality headset looks set to be another leap forward for fitness wearables.
Mixed reality is already commonplace in TV sports. You see it every time the virtual line of scrimmage is superimposed onto a football field. Now imagine that the players on the field can see that virtual line too, just like the viewers at home. That’s exactly what Apple’s latest gadget could deliver, adding a whole new dimension to sports and fitness.
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Augmented reality and mixed reality are not the same thing
Any device that overlays computer graphics over real-world imagery can be described as augmented reality or AR. Google Glass was an early pioneer in this area, with its tiny display in the corner of your field of vision. This kind of static AR display moves with your head, rather than the environment. It’s sometimes referred to as a head-up display, and it’s nothing new.
Apple is likely to be more ambitious. The company’s ARKit framework already enables developers to overlay virtual 3D objects onto video in real time, so they move as part of the environment. Lighting, shadows and even “people occlusion” (e.g. where a football player appears in front of the line of scrimmage, hiding the virtual line behind them) are all supported. This kind of hard-core AR is usually referred to as “mixed reality.”
So when Cupertino finally takes the wraps off its AR hardware, we can expect it to leverage this mixed-reality tech. Few products on the market today come close to delivering this. Those that do are pretty bulky, like Microsoft HoloLens and Nreal Light. They’re not ideal for fitness and sports.
The world’s first mixed-reality fitness wearable
There are currently two Apple AR rumors doing the rounds:
- Head-mounted display
A bulky device with a form factor similar to Valve Index, but using cameras to present the user with video of the world around them, integrated with virtual elements. (Predicted by TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.)
- Apple glasses
A lightweight headset that looks like a pair of regular glasses, enabling the user to see the real world through clear lenses and somehow superimposing the virtual content over it. Most of the processing would be offloaded onto the iPhone. (Predicted by YouTube star Jon Prosser, who says the device will be called Apple Glass.)
It’s possible that both products are real and the first is the precursor for the second, providing developers with a first look at Apple’s new “spatial computing” platform.
The head-mounted display sounds too bulky to be suitable for exercise, so it’s the glasses that fitness fans will be waiting for.
AR wearables are already awesome for fitness
I’ve been using an AR wearable in my fitness routine for some time now. Form Swim Goggles are one of my favorite fitness gadgets.
Apple Watch does a pretty good job of logging pool swims, but I find Form Swim Goggles are better in three important ways:
- I don’t have to interrupt my swimming by raising my wrist to check the display.
- The display is always on, so I get real-time feedback on my performance, like having a coach.
- The motion sensor is attached to my head rather than my wrist, so it can log strokes made with both arms, instead of just one.
These benefits are not unique to swimming — they apply to other fitness-related activities. Check out this demo for the Vuzix Blade to see how great AR could be for runners. You can access all the information you need without breaking form by raising your wrist, or risking an accident by taking your eyes off the road ahead.
How Apple glasses could take your fitness to the next level
Apple glasses will likely offer all these benefits and more. With mixed-reality on board, they could take things to a whole other level. Imagine Apple Fitness+, but with a virtual trainer in the room. You could walk around them to see how they’re doing the exercises. Your home workout might feel a little less lonely with Bakari or Molly standing right next to you.
If you want to get a feel for what this might be like, check out Driven to Win (D2W), a great fitness app by former NFL linebacker DeMarcus Ware. It uses Apple’s ARKit to create a virtual DeMarcus. (Here’s a video of me training with him).
When you watch Olympic swimming on TV, you see a line superimposed onto the pool. This shows where the simmers need to be for a world record. Imagine how cool it would be if Apple glasses did the exact same thing, but for running, cycling or skiing. A marker ahead of you could show your personal best. It would be like having a virtual pacer.
You could use a similar technique to race a friend remotely. A pointer could indicate if they’re ahead or behind you, so you could run together virtually, even if they’re on the other side of the world.
In a football game, imagine how handy it would be to actually see the first down line, so you could be sure you get the ball across it.
Mixed-reality tech uses lidar sensors to accurately estimate the distance between objects. That’s how the iPhone’s Measure app works. So when you’re running, for example, you could see exactly how far it is to a tree in the distance. That’s ideal if you want to train for a 100-meter sprint but don’t have a track. If you have a big enough space, Apple glasses could even create a full 400-meter Olympic track for you to train on.
The future of fitness tech is almost here
Of course, there will be a lot more to Apple Glass than fitness. I’m sure it will have all kinds of amazing features that we can’t even imagine yet. But as with Apple Watch, I think fitness will turn out to be a killer app for Cupertino’s upcoming wearable.