Apple AR 15 years, now only a “shell”?

Cook, who doesn’t like Metaverse, has a soft spot for AR.

In 2006, Apple filed a patent for a head-mounted display, which was later speculated on Apple AR glasses.

In the next fifteen years, Apple missed the surging waves of 2016, missed the second wave of 2020 , and will miss the “meta universe” in 2021. 

In the past 15 years, Apple has been steadily engaged in mergers and acquisitions, patents, and applications, but the hardware products have not been launched.

Just before this year’s WWDC 2021, news of Apple’s release of AR glasses at this conference is still endless. Recently, there has been news that Apple’s AR glasses may be released next year.

Now, it seems that it is not difficult to get an Apple AR glasses, but Apple is not willing yet.

01The VR battle of the “machine factory”

At the end of 2015, in the second year of Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, Xiaomi established an exploration laboratory. 

Lei Jun revealed at the 2016 annual meeting, “We have decided to draw a small team to prepare for the establishment of the Xiaomi Discovery Laboratory. Initially, we will focus on new directions such as virtual reality (VR) and intelligent robots, laying the next step for Xiaomi’s development.”

Obviously, Lei Jun originally wanted to invest in VR as a strategic project in the next stage. At that time, several new Internet car-making forces that had just started were also dubbed by the industry as the “three silly” car-making. Lei Jun would not have thought that Xiaomi would later The investment in VR in the past few years has not yielded results, but after turning to building cars, it has ushered in a wave of market overestimation.

In 2016, Xiaomi did make two VR glasses, a toy version VR for 49 yuan and an official version VR for 199 yuan, but these are still the early Google Cardboard-like VR boxes, which require a mobile phone and are highly dependent. Toy VR with mobile computing power.

In fact, in 2016, known as the first year of the domestic VR industry, many mobile phone manufacturers were crazy about it. Not only Xiaomi, but almost all mainstream mobile phone manufacturers in China launched VR products this year. Vivo released Vivo VR in the Water Cube in November, and Huawei released HUAWEI VR as early as April of this year.

Among them, the HUAWEI VR, which supports 2K resolution, 95° field of view (FOV), and 0-700 degree myopia adjustable, was later announced at a price of 599 yuan, which is three times that of Xiaomi VR.

In the past, mobile phone manufacturers cut into the VR field and released almost all “VR boxes.” This type of equipment that relied heavily on mobile phones gave them an advantage in product development. However, there were many problems in both software and hardware of this type of equipment at that time:

  • On the one hand, there is a lack of content. When the official version of Xiaomi VR was released in 2016, only more than 200 developers were recruited, and the number of device applications was only a few;
  • On the other hand, the hardware experience of the VR box itself is very poor, even if it is used to watch movies, there will be problems such as delay, screen windows, and dizziness, not to mention the game experience.

This directly caused the device itself to have almost no user experience at all, and it became the first wave of products used to educate the market.

Nevertheless, due to its low price, Xiaomi VR still had shipments of hundreds of thousands that year, and it was considered the first wave of concept dividends in the VR field.

Later , Li Shuxin , the CEO of Moxiang Technology, who worked for Xiaomi’s VR OEM, and who was in charge of Tencent’s VR team, revealed in an interview with the media, “At that time, a qualified VR all-in-one machine basically had to sell for about 3,000 yuan.” This is obviously. It was not the positioning of Xiaomi, which was still pursuing cost-effectiveness at that time, nor was it within the acceptable range of the mainstream audience of mobile phone manufacturers.

Xiaomi’s VR entry-level product is truly the Xiaomi Mi VR all-in-one machine released in May 2018 in conjunction with Oculus. Lei Jun said at the time that Xiaomi and Oculus had worked together for a year and a half to develop this product.

It is worth mentioning that in January 2017, after Hugo Barra, the former vice president of Xiaomi, left Xiaomi and returned to Google, he was responsible for the Facebook VR business, including the Oculus team. The cooperation between Xiaomi and Oculus is also Promoted directly by Hugo.

Although it was jointly developed by two Internet leading companies, and even though Lei Jun praised the “unmatched” of this device at the press conference at the time, the Xiaomi VR all-in-one is the domestic version of Oculus’s low-end product Oculus Go, 3DoF+ The 2K configuration could only be classified as a “viewing machine”, and the basic configuration of the mainstream “game console” PC VR at the time was more than one rank higher than this product.

Because of this, only one year later, Oculus Quest released Oculus Go directly.

In the year that Oculus Quest was released, another representative “mobile phone VR” entered the show. 

In September 2019, shortly after the release of Oculus Quest, Huawei released a VR device called HUAWEI VR Glass. This VR device with a three-segment folding light path design and a weight of only 166 grams. The structural design is recognized by everyone as the real form of VR glasses.

However, as a VR device at the same time as Oculus Quest, apart from miniaturization and portability, HUAWEI VR Glass has no other advantages in similar products. The 3DoF target is still the Oculus Go a year ago, with a FOV of only 90° (Not as good as the previous HUAWEI VR), the split design still requires an external mobile phone, and the mobile phone models supported by this product are still pitiful. 

At the press conference, why Hua has always emphasized the same “lightness” and “compactness”, and did not mention the field of view and degree of freedom of this product, but only combined the innovation in product structure design with that of Oculus Quest and VIVE Pro. The difference does not mention the difference in game ecology with the two.

It was not until November this year that Huawei released the 6DoF game set of this product again, supplementing this device with 6DoF gamepads, visual modules, custom safe areas, and PC VR assistants, which have long become standard features of VR products. Function, let this device barely keep up with the rhythm of mainstream products.

In fact, not only Xiaomi and Huawei, but also AR/VR hardware products of OPPO and vivo have been exposed to the public more or less, and even Coolpad , which has already fallen out of the first echelon of mobile phones , also spun off its AR business this year. The team, the new brand “Yingmu” has also launched two AR glasses and received two rounds of financing, which means it will re-emerge.

AR/VR is still the second battlefield for mobile phone manufacturers.

02 While engaged in mergers and acquisitions, while brushing patents

Among mobile phone manufacturers, Apple’s AR products have the most conjectures, and Apple’s AR devices are also the most difficult to produce. As a disruptor in the smartphone industry, everyone is waiting to see what Apple can do in the AR field.” Bombing field”.

However, when everyone is guessing when Apple will release AR glasses, it seems that only Apple itself is not in a hurry, and is still carrying out overseas mergers and acquisitions while brushing up on VR patents.

According to incomplete statistics from the zinc industry, Apple has acquired more than 20 AR/VR-related teams, and more than 400 AR/VR patents have been published.

Today, these teams and patents alone are enough to make up a pair of glasses.

To this end, the zinc industry has sorted out the main progress on Apple’s AR products from three aspects: product forecast, core technology, and software ecology :

1. Product forecast:

Bloomberg quoted sources familiar with the matter at the beginning of this year as saying that Apple currently has two devices under development. One is a VR device with the internal codename “N301”. This is the AR glasses with the internal code name “N421”, which is still in the research stage of the underlying technology, or will be later than the original scheduled release time of 2023.

2. Core technology:

Chips. In September of this year, The Information reported that the SoC on Apple’s AR glasses has stronger performance than other chips on the market. This chip is ready for trial production. Later, at the autumn conference in October, Apple first announced the full performance of the M1 Pro and M1 Max applied to the Macbook Pro, directly throwing away the previous Intel chips for a few streets, which also confirmed the use of Apple AR glasses. Compared with the current similar products, the performance of the obtained processor will be more intuitively improved.

Lens, Apple in 2018 bought a AR-eye mirror mirror sheet manufacturer Akonia Holographic, before being acquired by Apple, the company already has over 200 patents, which uses technology called HoloMirror in color saturation and viewing angle There is better performance. In addition, Apple also applied for a patent in December 2018 that uses an array of microlenses to change the viewing angle of the imaging system.

“Camera”, in March 2020, Apple’s new iPad Pro added a LiDAR lidar to enhance the AR application experience and achieve precise spatial positioning. According to foreign media predictions, this “camera” is likely to appear again On Apple’s AR glasses.

Gesture recognition. In 2013, Apple acquired PrimeSense, a research 3D motion capture team. This company has developed the world’s smallest 3D sensor. According to the patent issued by the US Patent Office in 2021, Apple has applied for a patent through the company that realizes eyeball and gesture tracking through 3D mapping technology. Through this patent, AR glasses can have gesture recognition functions. At the same time, Apple also together with an application by an injection -view data object predicted position in front of the patent.

Facial recognition, Apple has previously acquired Faceshift, Emotient, RealFace, Regaind, Perceptio and other technical teams for facial recognition. In fact, Apple has begun to use 3D structure in the front camera as early as September 2017 when the iPhone X was released. The optical solution does 3D face recognition (Face ID). For this reason, Apple even cancelled the home button. Based on this, Apple has also applied for a patent for identifying gamers on AR devices through Face ID.

Spatial positioning, Apple previously acquired WiFiSLAM, Flyby Media, and other teams, in the Apple AR/VR patent pool, there are also technical patents such as restoration of 3D sound field based on spatial audio positioning, spatial positioning through ultrasound, and simultaneous positioning of multiple people. .

3. Software ecology:

Apple’s layout in AR/VR software is the clearest and the largest. In 2017, Apple released ARKit, an AR software development tool supporting Unity and Unreal engines at WWDC 2017. At this year’s WWDC 2021, Apple has updated this tool to the fifth version ARKit 5. In addition, it has also released new AR features such as AR Maps, Object Capture, and RealityKit 2.

Apple officially stated that there are currently more than 10,000 iOS applications that support AR.

According to the zinc industry, Apple has been accelerating its layout in terms of content and patents in the past two years. In 2020, it spent $100 million to acquire NextVR, which provides VR live broadcast services. In the same year, it acquired the spin-off from DreamWorks Animation. The VR team Spaces.

According to incomplete statistics, in only one year of 2021, Apple has won 90+ patents. 

03 Cook does not like the meta universe

Obviously, Cook does not like Metaverse, but this does not affect Apple’s crazy investment in the AR field.

After the last round of fierce battle, mainstream mobile phone manufacturers have more or less deployed some products on the AR/VR track, but until now, there is still no AR/VR product that can be called a cross-era. After some adjustments, the XR teams of several mobile phone manufacturers have either retained or rebuilt their organizational system, and they have once again prepared for the battle.

And the next battle may really determine the final ranking and staying.

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