The iPhone was Apple's last big technology breakthrough when it launched 10 years ago. Yes, there have been new iterations on a regular basis, each with small advances, but nothing really major. The company just may change that with its rumored augmented reality headset, which apparently now has a codename and its own operating system.
The device, dubbed T288 internally, will have its own screen instead of relying on an iPhone to provide one. It will also have its own chipset, and an operating system currently known as rOS, according to Bloomberg anonymous sources familiar with the device. Apple has imposed an "aggressive" timeline, hoping to have development done by 2019 in time for a release sometime in 2020.
Apple has not yet completed a prototype device, so it is currently using HTC Vive headsets for testing. To test AR apps, the company is also working on an Oculus Gear VR-like device to use internally, but using an iPhone screen, cameras and chipsets, Bloomberg said. rOS will be similar to the iPhone's OS, in much the way that macOS runs laptops, tvOS runs Apple TV, and watchOS runs the Apple Watch.
There are still plenty of details to work out, such as how users will launch apps or control them through the headset. The company is also discussing using its own version of the App Store within the device so users can easily download apps they want to play or use.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has been a strong proponent of AR over VR, saying during the company's latest earnings call a few days ago that “We’re already seeing things that will transform the way you work, play, connect and learn. Put simply, we believe AR is going to change the way we use technology forever.”
The company has been laying the groundwork for its AR unit with the release of ARKit motion tracking technology, unveiled in June and released in iOS 11 in September. A newer version is planned for next year. Also, hardware and software within the iPhone 8 handsets and iPhone X smartphone already support AR experiences.
Analysts feel that Apple now has a significant advantage in the AR space over Google and Android devices, given the "numerous camera designs in use, and AR support will take much longer to roll out across the Android installed base because of the sluggishness of Android OEM software update cycles." They expect Google will not be able to catch up until at least late 2018.