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Apple's postponed glasses prove our AR future is further off than we thought

Apple is reportedly postponing its rumored AR glasses to focus on its mixed-reality headset, just the latest setback in the march toward augmented reality.

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Your augmented reality glasses are no longer “just around the corner.” While Apple is widely expected to introduce its take on a Quest Pro-style mixed-reality headset in the first half of 2023, the company is reportedly postponing plans to release AR glasses indefinitely, Bloomberg reports.

The decision reflects shrinking hopes across the tech industry that a consumer-ready AR product could be available anytime soon, primarily due to the technical challenges of cramming chips, batteries, and displays into glasses the average person would want to wear. The delay, and reports indicating Microsoft is making cuts to its AR-focused HoloLens project, are as good of proof as any that virtual reality headsets are the only future we’ll be obscuring our vision with for now.

Mixed-reality pivot

Apple’s rumored headset will be something more akin to HTC’s Vive XR Elite, with a focus on mixed-reality experiences.PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook has long made his interest in AR clear, which has led many to assume the company’s ultimate goal would be to release its own pair of smart glasses. Per Bloomberg’s reporting, the company did hope to follow up its long-rumored headset with a lightweight pair of glasses before the current delay. Now, that’s been scrapped in favor of a cheaper headset “using chips on par with those in the iPhone” priced in the same range as Meta’s $1,500 Quest Pro. Not cheap, but certainly less eye-popping than the $3,000 some predict Apple’s first mixed-reality device will retail for.

Trillion-dollar companies can presumably afford to develop products they ultimately decide not to release, so while this (still unconfirmed) change in plans brings Apple more in line with how Meta is currently inching its way toward its first AR device (reportedly called Project Nazarre), I have to imagine Apple also believes it has something on its hands here. A novel mixed-reality adaptation of existing software like FaceTime could be compelling!

Technical road bumps

Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 is the company’s current AR headset and what its military-focused IVAS device is based on.Xinhua News Agency/Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Of course, that doesn't change the fact that good old-fashioned hardware engineering is still getting in the way of making augmented reality happen. Microsoft’s cuts to its HoloLens team — part of company-wide layoffs numbering in the thousands — are tied to issues it’s had with its HoloLens headset and a separate AR system it was developing for the U.S. military called Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS). The IVAS was causing eyestrain, nausea, and headaches and could have put soldiers in danger, according to information viewed by Insider, and is likely one of the reasons Congress opted not to purchase more devices from Microsoft.

Despite promising developments from AR component manufacturers, putting all the pieces together for major tech companies appears to still have its challenges. Even five years ago, it would have seemed foolish to assume that VR headsets would be where a company like Apple is placing its bets as “the next big thing,” and given the secrecy of the company, we can’t exactly bet on horses that don’t exist yet. But it’s clear plans are shifting — even for companies with a headstart like Meta — and everyday augmented reality is further away than anyone guessed.

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