What comes after the iPhone: smart glasses and the “reality operating system”

After years of speculation, Apple’s iPhone X is finally out in the wild. That means the media, analysts, and the rest of the world now need a new unreleased Apple product to obsess over. And we’ve found one.

Bloomberg reported today, following up on previous reporting, that Apple is working on a pair of augmented-reality smart glasses, and a new operating system, that it’s dubbing the “reality operating system.” The new device could ship as early as 2019 or 2020, according to the report.

Although it’s been wildly successful with the iPhone in the 10 years since its release, Apple has struggled to hit on another breakout product in the intervening years. The Apple Watch, the first major product released under CEO Tim Cook’s tenure, has not come close to the heights of the iPhone, and sales of new iPads and Mac computers have respectively been trending downwards and stayed the same over that same period.

Apple’s next great hope appears to be right on our noses. The company’s glasses would be able to overlay digital information on the physical world, such as a mechanic getting information on how fix a part as they work, or a sports fan getting live stats on a game they’re watching at a stadium. In practice, this wouldn’t be wildly different from other devices currently under development, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens. The difference, presumably, would be that Apple wouldn’t settle for a device that looks like a massive plastic blindfold for its consumer product.

The company reportedly has hundreds of people working on the project, attempting to figure out what combination of touch sensors, head movements, and voice commands through Siri would best work. Apple has made a push in recent years around augmented reality, bringing its own AR framework to its mobile devices, called ARKit, this summer, which allows any developer to easily build AR apps. Cook has said previously that augmented reality could represent “a great commercial opportunity” for the company. Apple wasn’t immediately available to discuss its plans for AR in glasses.

The question remains whether consumers want to strap a device like this to their heads, no matter how well it’s designed. Early virtual reality headsets like Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive have sold moderately, and Snapchat owner Snap this week admitted it had to write down nearly $40 million of unsold inventory for its connected Spectacles glasses. The company said it overestimated demand after the initial hype.

Whether the brushed aluminum, chamfered edges, or rose gold that Apple could bring to the market would make any difference, is unclear.

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