The virtual reality market has seen quite a few introductions of smartglasses that allow the user to incorporate a smartphone as the main display for the headset. Such headsets typically come at a lower price tag and less predictable performance as the smartphone display used influences the optical as well as computing performance. Now Apple has received a patent describing exactly such a device.
The US Patent No. 8957835 – is titled “Head Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display”. It describes a frame that allows the user to insert a portable electronic device similar as described above and shown in the images below.
The patent describes the insertion into a frame as well as the connection to electronics embedded in the frame itself. The claims in the patent are more focused on the insertion and connectivity than the overall functionality. There is no description on what the device is capable of or what content can be played.
It does, however, describe a remote control system interacting with the inserted electronic device.
The remote control looks like the typical Apple remote shipped with every Apple TV.
The image appears to show an older iPhone design, as the current iPhone is much larger and would require a headset that looks more like over-sized goggles than normal glasses. The other aspect that makes this patent questionable is the original filing date of September 30, 2008. It took more than six years for this patent to be granted and one may wonder if this is really close to the original application.
Of course, putting a smartphone directly in front of your eyes will not create a smartglass device, so some claims describe an optical layer that allows the user to see the content as a virtual image. The description is very loose and includes all kinds of optical elements to achieve the desired functionality without describing it all.
The patent seems to be a very basic design, far from reality. A further search of the US patent database revealed only very few patents that could be seen as part of Apple’s virtual or augmented reality plans. There are some descriptions of transparent displays (which could combine augmented with virtual reality) and some patents on input methods.
Apple is known to hide its intentions well, especially when it comes to patents describing its device plans. For example, there are only eight patents that are assigned to Apple that contain the word ‘watch’ in their claims. These deal with antennas and networks, none with the device itself. We may just have to wait and see if Apple throws its hat into the AR and/or VR ring. The just awarded patent is not convincing either way. – NH