Apple Glass — but why?

In 2014, Tim Cook introduced the big and bigger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and followed them up with one more thing… the Apple Watch.

In 2020, could Tim Cook announce a smaller and bigger iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Max, and follow them up with one more thing… the Apple Glasses?

Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it in a scalding minute.

For years, the worst of the worst analysts have been saying Apple desperately needs a next big thing, and I’ve been eye rolling them just adamatium hard. Because there isn’t anything as big as the iPhone yet and there won’t be for a good long while.

But… what there is is a series of next small things that, when taken in aggregate, will provide for exceptional value. Literally one more thing. But several of them in succession.

Apple Watch. AirPods. Services. And, if the rumors are true, at some point in the next year or two, Apple Glasses.

Now, there’s a bunch of information already available about Apple Glasses, because Mark Gurman’s been reporting on rOS for a while, the StarBoard frameworks were accidentally included in an iOS release last year, and Jon Prosser just added that he heard they’ll be branded Glass and have a starting price of $499.

But, I’m not here to re-write anyone’s blog post or re-shoot anyone’s video. No. Not today, Satan. You can go read or watch that stuff straight from the original sources.

Because you know, like Drax, I’m never as interested in The Who or the what.

I want to know the why…

Apple Glass Architecture

I think a lot of people assume the first iteration of the Apple Glasses will be like the original Apple Watch.

Another wearable shuttlecraft utterly dependent on Starship iPhone for anything and everything major.

Maybe even more dependent. Somewhere between the Apple Watch and, say, AirPods.

And that certainly makes the kind of sense that does. Given there’d be no room on glasses for an iPhone-style A-series system-on-a-chip, or SoC, and all the memory and storage and battery volume that goes with it.

There probably won’t even be room for an Apple Watch-style S-series system-in-package, which basically wraps an entire computer in an itty-bitty-box.

But maybe something between that and the H-series system-in-package in the current-gen AirPods, which is smaller but also far more specific.

An Apple G1, so to speak.

Now, Apple had over a decade to study personal computers, including their own Apple II, before launching the iMac. A decade of smartphones and tablet PCs before launching the iPhone and iPad.

But barely half that with smart watches before launching the Apple Watch.

And it showed. Because the Watch wasn’t anywhere nearly as focused in purpose or messaging at that launch, and, in Apple ended up experimenting, learning, and rapidly improving it over the next few years. In public. Which was just interesting as hell to watch but also… unprecedented.

Glasses are way more like Watches than phones or tablets. There was Google Glass, but those were literally an experiment. More recently, Snap-ticles, Amazon Echo Frames, North’s Focals, and a couple others, which all look more like normal glasses and less like something the Borg would wear out on the town.

But none of them do much yet, not even as much as the Apple Watch did at launch.

Apple Glass Capabilities

Despite its short comings, the Apple Watch did have a few things going for it. Just like the iPhone wasn’t really a smart phone but the first full-on pocket computer, the Apple Watch wasn’t really a smart watch but the first full-on wrist computer.

It could do a much smaller, much briefer, but still critically important subset of what the iPhone could do — just like the iPhone could do a much smaller, much briefer, but still critically important subset of what the Mac could so — but by virtue of it being always on your body, the Apple Watch could also do a few compelling things all its own.

Then, heart rate monitoring for health and fitness, now for medical as well, along with fall detection and international emergency calling.

Also and just as importantly, convenience. Just like you could that smaller subset of important things on your iPhone without having to go back to your Mac, you can do that even smaller subset of important things on your Apple Watch without even having to reach for your iPhone.

Now, what about glasses?

Working backwards, convenience is easy. With glasses, you could do a much smaller subset of things but without even having to lift your wrist and look at your Watch.

Meaning, zero-effort head’s up display, HUD, though not anything like what Tony Stark has in the Iron Man armor, at last not yet.

As to sensors, I don’t know if heart rate would be possible or even needed, but you’d have LiDAR, which could quickly provide a rough scan of 3D objects that surround you.

It’s what the 2020 iPads Pro shipped with and what’s rumored to be coming on the 2020 iPhones Pro as well. Likely to help get the system adopted, vetted, and ramped up in time for Apple Glasses.

Because holding a giant tablet up, even a phone up, to see augmented reality layers on top of the real world isn’t cool. Having it painted up in front of your eyes, now that’s cool.

It also sounds like the Apple Glasses will be just like the Apple Watch in another way — maybe glorious, maybe terrible: They won’t have an RGB camera.

See, on the iPads Pro and the upcoming iPhones Pro, like the TrueDepth camera on the front, the back reality cameras will have not just LiDAR but actual, you know, conventional cameras.

Those are the ones that let you take photos and videos, sure, but also let you do things like scan documents and QR codes, identify Lego models, read signs and landmarks, and do basically any level of sophisticated real-word ingestion and computer vision, like at all.

It’s glorious in that, not having a conventional camera is critical for privacy. One of the biggest push-backs against Google Glass was people didn’t like the idea that they could be secretly recorded in a changing room, bathroom, hell, dining room. And a blinking record light again just makes you look like creepy cousin Borg.

It’s terrible in that, without a conventional camera, a lot of the convenience of a face mounted computer goes away.

No walking into Starbucks, glancing at a QR code embedded in the logo, and having the daily deals pop up for you. No looking at a sign while you’re traveling and having the translation just write right over it.

Maybe measurements will work based of LiDAR, maybe maps will work based off GPS from your phone or watch, maybe Find My will still light up for devices with U1 chips, maybe we’ll even be able to have AR characters, or AR versions of new Apple Products, dance with our nicely occluded friends.

But a lot of the sophisticated stuff that relies on depth and image data just won’t have that second set of data to rely on, to the point of maybe not having them at all, and still having to go back to our iPhone or iPad for it.

Is that tradeoff, privacy instead of functionality, a benefit or a drawback for you, or do you think Apple will find a way for us to have both? Let me know in the comments.

Apple Glass Experience

For me, all of that is going to come down to the experience the Apple Glasses provide when you put them on. Limited in the first iteration, for sure, but also whatever path is glimpse-able ahead.

With the Apple Watch, when they were still just a rumor, I said my killer feature would have to be convenience. Those few, brief, critical things they could do more conveniently than a phone. But, over the years, it’s grown to be more. The things they do no phone can. The health and fitness. The way they save lives.

I feel very much the same way about Apple Glasses. I want that head’s up display, that HUD in my life, I want it to show me important notifications more easily than even the Apple Watch can. I want it to give me walking directions in a way beyond what the Apple Watch’s Taptic Engine can.

But I also need those other features. Not taps or heartbeats or sketches, the stuff that came and went from the Apple Watch quickly, though I’m sure we’ll get some version of those too, but the features no iPhone or Apple Watch can do. The life changing ones.

And that’s key not just for us but for Apple as well. Because, for Glasses to be truly successful, for them to be part of that series of next small things, that, when taken in aggregate, will provide for exceptional value, Apple will need you to buy them in addition to, not instead of.

Just like you buy the Apple Watch in addition to the iPhone, and the AirPods in addition to both.

Apple Glasses have to literally be more than one more thing, they have to be the next in a succession of several few things.

When that happens, I fully expect we’ll see exactly what we saw with the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. Just with iPhone 12… or iPhone 13… or iPhone 14… and Apple Glasses.