Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Apple is already planning its next big thing after the Vision Pro

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A person wearing the Apple Vision Pro demo unit in an Apple Store.Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The Vision Pro headset is Apple’s most significant new product in years, and it is widely seen as the company’s “next big thing.” But Apple isn’t resting on its laurels, as a new report has highlighted the products that the company hopes will shake up the market in similarly momentous ways. And no, we’re not talking about a second-generation Vision Pro.

Contents

  • The Vision Pro alternative
  • Who needs an Apple Watch?
  • The next big thing

Among the devices Apple is secretly working on are a set of smartglasses, a health and fitness ring, and even a pair of souped-up AirPods with cameras and advanced sensors. All of these products are designed to capture customer attention and help Apple turn the ship around after a disappointing year of declining sales.

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We know all this thanks to the latest Power On newsletter from Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, who is considered to have strong sources inside Apple and its supply chain. But while the newsletter outlines a few ideas Apple has up its sleeve, we probably shouldn’t expect to see them any time soon.

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The Vision Pro alternative

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The Vision Pro is undoubtedly an incredibly high-quality device that is far more capable than anything that rivals like Meta and HTC can put together. But it has received its fair share of criticisms, ranging from its price to its bulky frame and weight. That has apparently gotten Apple thinking about a lighter alternative that could address some of those drawbacks.

According to Gurman, this would take the form of a pair of smartglasses imbued with much of the high-tech wizardry you’ll find in the Vision Pro. That might include using artificial intelligence (AI) and cameras to identify real-world objects for you, built-in audio that wouldn’t require AirPods, and augmented reality overlays that provide data and graphics on top of the real world.

Gurman cautions that “true augmented reality spectacles” of the type Apple dreams of building are still “several years away,” but that the glasses Apple is currently tinkering with are a “stepping stone” towards that future reality.

But that doesn’t mean these ‘intermediate’ specs will be mediocre. Gurman points out that companies like Meta have launched their own smartglasses that have found a degree of success. Apple’s glasses could also give users a cheaper, more comfortable way into the world of augmented reality without requiring them to go all-out and get a pricey Vision Pro.

Who needs an Apple Watch?

Jonas Daehnert / Inside-sim

What about the smart ring? Gurman says this will primarily be used to measure health data, much in the same way the Apple Watch can be used to track your workouts. Its small, unobtrusive size could make it more comfortable to wear during exercise, too.

Compared to the Apple Watch, Gurman says the smart ring could have a number of advantages: it would be a lot cheaper, it wouldn’t prevent people from wearing a traditional wristwatch, and it could last longer than a Watch because it wouldn’t have a battery-draining screen attached to it. That could make it a good way to attract users who like the idea of an Apple Watch, but feel it has too many drawbacks to actually buy one.

Interestingly, patents have shown that Apple is considering a far wider range of uses for a smart ring than just tracking your health and fitness. The company has explored how the device could control a Mac or an Apple TV, interact with smartglasses, control Vision Pro games, and more. If Apple decides to launch this device, it could have a wide range of interesting uses.

And Gurman revealed that Apple is also considering a curious upgrade for the AirPods: outfitting them with low-resolution cameras, as well as “more advanced AI and sensors.” The purpose of these add-ons would be to take in your surroundings and “capture data that would be processed via AI and assist people in their daily routines.” We don’t know for sure, but we imagine that could include hazard warnings or dynamic audio adjustments based on your environment. That sounds much more useful than the “AirPods plus cameras” idea initially appears.

The next big thing

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These products all seem intriguing, but when will we actually see them? Unfortunately, we’ve probably still got quite a wait ahead of us.

The smart ring, Gurman says, isn’t being actively developed. However, he added that “there are certainly people within the walls of Apple’s campus promoting the concept.” And as mentioned earlier, we know that Apple is regularly firing off patents for a smart ring. Given the success of the Oura Ring and Samsung’s imminent market entry, Apple might start to take the smart ring concept a little more seriously over the coming months and years.

As for the smartglasses, Gurman says these “are in an exploratory phase known as ‘technology investigation’ within Apple’s hardware engineering division.” He didn’t provide a rough estimate for a launch date, and it’s entirely possible that neither the glasses, nor the ring, nor the modified AirPods will ever launch.

But Gurman did make one thing clear: Apple is “under growing pressure to make something work.” With sales down and concerns being raised over the Vision Pro’s price and weight, it makes sense that Apple is experimenting with lower-cost devices that could excite the public. Will any of them prove to be Apple’s “next big thing?” We’ll have to see.

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