The Apple rumor mill is getting its first real workout of 2019, and this time the whispers are more exciting than usual.
Well known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has released a new report that claims that Apple's first augmented reality device will go into production in the fourth quarter of this year.
The analyst's report, surfaced by 9to5Mac, also claims that the AR product will rely on the iPhone as a central component, using the smartphone as the computer and the separate product, likely wearable smartglasses, as the display.
If true, that would mirror the approach being used by startups like Nreal and DreamGlass, both of which harness the powers of an Android smartphone and use the wearable glasses primarily as a display mechanism.
Of the two, Nreal Light is by far the most advanced in terms of mainstream design and function. When I tried the device earlier this year, I was stunned by just how powerful the AR experience was. Based on that sampling, it seems like the only thing stopping Nreal Light from becoming a truly popular product is a lack of content partnerships and marketing, two things Apple has in large measure, in addition to its installed user base of iPhone users and growing ranks of ARKit developers.
Since Kuo has such a strong track record of accurately predicting Apple releases, this new report, which essentially doubles down on previous rumors, almost guarantees that we'll see some kind of Apple AR smartglasses wearable in the next 18 to 24 months, even if the first look is just via an official announcement. However, Kuo's report also notes that mass production may not begin until the second quarter of 2020, which is still just around the corner at this point.
Just before this rumor dropped, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (who no longer works at the company, but keeps a close eye on things) offered some interesting comments during a Bloomberg interview.
"I'm waiting for Apple to come back in the game… with something new and striking…," said Wozniak, speaking on the future of Apple in the mobile marketplace.
"Apple has been a leader for quite a long time in a few areas such as Touch ID, Face ID, and easy payment with the phone. They were the leader and everyone else had to follow. But they're not the leader in things like the folding phone, and that worries me because I really do want a folding phone, it's one of those new technologies that does catch my attention. But Apple always has surprises, you know, working on a lot of things in the background. They just got so successful with the iPhone that that was their whole business for a long time. Now they're branching out…"
What's fascinating about Wozniak's comments is that he mentions nearly every technology out there, including 5G, streaming TV, folding phones, etc., but seems careful to never once mention AR, the thing that Apple CEO Tim Cook says will "change everything."
Given those somewhat coy statements (watching the video, above, helps illustrate the odd omission), it's reasonable to ask: Does Woz know something?
And does the fact that both of the aforementioned AR smartglasses startups that use a smartphone and glasses in tandem just happen to be from China — Apple's manufacturing base and the source of many accurate Apple rumors — indicate that the word is already out among Chinese tech insiders?
Are the tech insiders on the ground in Apple's often leaky manufacturing base operating on information that's so solid that they're trying to prepare an Android answer before the iOS version of mainstream AR smartglasses arrive?
Reading Apple tea leaves is always tricky, but if Kuo's past is any indication, 2020 will likely deliver a massive dose of AR smartglasses marketing from Cupertino. But like the Apple Watch before it, the only question will be: Is the public ready for Apple AR smartglasses? It looks like we're about to find out.