Before the Apple Vision Pro was unveiled, my biggest question was whether Apple was going to announce a set of augmented reality glasses that would be an iPhone accessory — and look and function more like normal glasses — or if it was going to launch something more like a full-fledged virtual reality headset that was a self-contained computer of it own. We had long heard reports of both products being in development.
Clearly, the Vision Pro is the latter, and Apple has even called it a new kind of computer — a spatial computer. However, a new September 5 filing with the US Patent Office suggests that Apple is continuing work on a more standard set of smart glasses that would have a digital crown on one of the stems and would serve as a heads-up display showing notifications, controlling your music player, and projecting images and information on the lenses to augment the real world in front of you. Apple refers to the device as a “head-mounted display/smart glasses (HMD)” in the filing.
It would not be unprecedented for Apple to offer both products. Meta offers both the Meta Quest VR headset and the Ray-Ban Stories AR glasses, and will be Apple’s biggest rival in the consumer AR/VR space. Apple clearly thinks it can do something more ambitious with the Vision Pro than Meta has been able to do with its Quest headsets. With AR glasses, it’s reasonable to expect that Apple will tap into the iPhone to power the device and apply things it has learned from the Apple Watch as a second-screen companion accessory.
Of course, Apple files patents regularly and not all of these things turn into real-world products. However, the timing of this one — just three months after the announcement of Vision Pro — is one of the most interesting factors here. It suggests that Apple’s work on a set of smart glasses that would be an iPhone companion continues in earnest, since the drawings and descriptions in the patent have a more concrete and less abstract quality than many of these filings.
A set of Apple AR glasses could certainly exist in the same product family as the Vision Pro. The focus on the Digital Crown in this patent filing shows that they would likely even share some features. Apple would probably love to adapt the Vision Pro hardware into a lighter, simpler form factor more akin to a set of standard spectacles — but the capability of shrinking the powerful tech inside the Vision Pro down to that form factor is still decades away.
In the meantime, perhaps Apple will have AR glasses as an iPhone accessory on the low end and the Vision Pro headset on the high end, with the goal of eventually merging the two product lines in the decades ahead.