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Apple said to be considering wearable glasses, augmented reality

When the idea of wearable computing was first proposed, analysts and industry executives jumped on the concept like rats off a sinking ship. Tablet sales were already fluttering, ahead of their long slide, smartphones clearly weren’t going to carry the market forever, and various companies from small players like Fitbit and Pebble to entrenched companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft all were hungry to open a new frontier in wearable computing.

Since then, consumer appetite for wearables has been decidedly mixed. Google Glass, which debuted in 2013, was a mediocre product with lousy battery life, an unimpressive camera, and a four-digit price tag. The only thing that truly stood out about Google Glass was the self-entitled attitudes of the people who thought owning a set had magically transformed them into special snowflakes who didn’t care whether other people were interested in being surveilled by someone else’s face computer. We’ve seen some weak demand for smart watches from companies like Pebble or Apple, and some success for fitness trackers and other, similar wearables. But nobody has yet cracked the code on mass market hardware — probably because the fundamental UI and battery life challenges that make designing wearables difficult haven’t really been solved yet. Dedicated devices have also seen generally better uptake than general-purpose hardware.

Now, Apple reportedly wants in on this nascent action, or is at least considering the matter. That’s the news from Bloomberg, who notes that the hardware would connect wirelessly to the iPhone, show objects and other information in the wearer’s field of vision, and could be an augmented reality device. The firm has reportedly ordered near-eye displays and tracking technology, but is thought to be experimenting with the equipment rather than prototyping hardware for near-term manufacturing. The report pins 2018 as the soonest we’d see any such device in-market.

Apple has acquired some AR companies already, and Cook seems bullish on the concept. “AR can be really great, and we have been and continue to invest a lot in this,” Cook said in July. “We are high on AR for the long run. We think there are great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.” Coincidentally, Pokemon Go had just launched at the time. It’s not clear why Cook would actually chase the wearable market, given the criminal lack of wearable dongles (wongles?) and the general lack of a head-mounted use-case that consumers would want and could afford (HoloLens is pretty cool, but it’s also a $3,000 developer toy).

But perhaps more to the point, Apple, historically, doesn’t try to lead the industry in inventing new devices. Instead, it comes from behind and reinvents early iterations into a far better form factor than what was previously available. The iPhone was far from the first smartphone, but it was the first smartphone with a nearly buttonless front and a touchscreen for all device interaction, and that also didn’t require a stylus.

Google grabbed for the early wearable market with Glass, and gave us a legendary nickname and a lot of grumpy hipsters. Apple has followed up with the Apple Watch, and, well, few seem to care so far. Steve Jobs’ best feature was his willingness to tell analysts and investors to pound sand when it came to building good products, as opposed to products Wall Street thought were good.

Think of the Glassholes, Tim. Think, wait, and give hardware designers and software gurus another four or five years to cut power consumption, develop use cases, and create a product people want to buy.

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