Apple is working on smart glasses

Up next for Apple—something like Snap’s Spectacles?
Up next for Apple—something like Snap’s Spectacles?
Image: Snap
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Apple has its sights set on strapping even more devices to your body.

new report from Bloomberg Nov. 14 suggests that the company is looking into developing a pair of smart glasses. The device, which is still under development, would connect wirelessly to an iPhone—much like an Apple Watch does—and tell you similar sorts of information. It will be able to give you notifications, tell you how far you’ve walked and which way you’re headed, along with other tidbits that might be more useful to know as you look straight ahead, rather than down at your phone or wrist.

Apple has explored at least one design for its glasses that looks similar to some popular sunglasses already on the market. In a design mockup shared with Quartz by a source with knowledge of the project, the glasses looked rather like a pair of sunglasses made by the online glasses startup Warby Parker. This particular design wouldn’t be used for virtual reality, however. “The glasses, are cool, but not VR,” the source told Quartz.

Apple declined to comment.

Late last week, Snap, the newly formed parent company of Snapchat, started selling Spectacles, a pair of video-recording sunglasses, out of vending machines that have been popping up in random locations across the US. The glasses also connect to a smartphone using Bluetooth, and have a design similar to the potential design of Apple’s glasses. Spectacles, however, do not have any sort of augmented-reality capabilities, though many believe that is where the wearable will eventually be headed.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has mentioned his interest in augmented reality in the past. Earlier this year on an earnings call, Cook said that games like Pokémon Go showed that “AR can be really great,” adding that the company is “high on AR for the long run,” and that the technology could represent “a great commercial opportunity” for the company. It’s unknown whether Apple’s smart glasses would be capable of augmenting the world that users see through the glasses, or whether they would just display static information, rather like the heads-up displays on found in some luxury cars.

Apple has been in search of a new product to kickstart slumping sales in recent quarters. The company released its first new product, the Apple Watch—another Bluetooth connected wearable—in 2015, but it has not yet seen the wide appeal that has been enjoyed by its other products. And the latest releases of the company’s staple products, including the iPhone, Mac computers, and iPad tablets, have seen lackluster sales and middling reviews recently. A new product like smart glasses could be what Apple needs to return to growth, although as Bloomberg reports, it’s unlikely that these glasses, if they even are released, will be available earlier than 2018, given that the glasses in question are still in the testing phase.

Smart glasses aren’t a surefire avenue to growth. Early movers like Google Glass were reviled as expensive, awkward devices that didn’t achieve much. And while there’s been early positive reviews for Snap’s Spectacles, it remains to be seen if they’ll garner wide appeal. It’s also uncertain whether this is the sort of device that Apple customers will be clambering for. That being said, even the underwhelming Apple Watch has likely sold millions of units since its launch.

The challenge right now is that we don’t really know what “a product like this” is, Jackdaw Research lead analyst Jan Dawson told Quartz. “Apple tends not to enter a market unless there’s some proven demand for a product or it feels like it can create new demand, so I would expect them to work very hard to establish a clear market opportunity here before launching something.” Dawson didn’t feel that Apple’s research into smart glasses was in response to Spectacles, given that Apple has multiple glasses-related patents, spanning years of work, but will be wary of competitors’ failures: “Given the failure of Google Glass, you wouldn’t expect Apple to even want to emulate those.”