Will Apple’s AR glasses be as transformative as the iPhone?

by Ross Dawson


Augmented reality indubitably has the potential to transform our interface with technology and information. 

Virtual reality can potentially take us into extraordinary realms, but always away from our everyday reality. Augmented reality (AR) can and will be woven into our everyday.

It is inevitable that AR will, in time, be a major way for us to access and interact with information.

How long will it take for AR glasses?

However one of the greatest uncertainties is the timeline for broad adoption of augmented reality devices. 

In the next phase, moving beyond the use of AR on smartphones, this will inevitably take a form very much like today’s eyeglasses, potentially before later evolving to contact lenses.

iGlasses are coming

An article earlier this week in The Information reported that Apple shared in internal meetings that it is planning to launch an AR headset in 2022 and AR glasses in 2023.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that he thinks that “everyone” will use AR and he doesn’t think “anything will be untouched” by the technology. Building on top of the already substantial commitment of Apple to AR on its devices with ARKit and other initiatives, they clearly also want to participate in the potential of AR devices.

Apple redefines categories

The iPod and iPhone were launched into markets where existing comparable products were already available. But despite coming later to the market both redefined and were the most successful in their categories.

I often point to the launch of the iPhone 3G as the moment when people shifted from thinking about a phone as a device for communicating by voice and text to being their portal to a world of information. Smartphones were already on the market but they hadn’t changed people’s fundamental relationship with their devices.

Apple certainly is a front-runner to take AR glasses into the mainstream. 

The market potential

For those who already wear glasses, if adding AR functionality doesn’t detract significantly from comfort and looks then it will be a no-brainer for many. People who wear glasses is already a massive potential market, which will grow further when the value is sufficient for others to sometimes choose to wear AR glasses for the functionality it gives them.

If Apple waits three or more years to launch AR glasses, that will certainly provide opportunities for others to establish a strong lead in the market. 

Establishing the market

There is certainly the potential for large consumer electronics or phone companies such as Samsung or HTC to release quality AR glasses, build a strong user base, exploit economies of scale, and establish a category into which other entrants can launch and further grow the market.

Emerging players also have a chance to define the market with quality offerings. For example North with their Focals Smart Glasses and some other upstarts are offering promising AR glasses that are advancing on key factors including looks, comfort, and performance, and moving closer to mass market price points.

The coming transformation of our interfaces

I believe it is inevitable that Apple will release AR glasses. The key uncertainties are the timing, and the state of the market when they enter, if we make the assumption that Apple maintains its tradition in releasing a truly superior product into the category.

The base case is that, unless other players have established substantial penetration of the potential market before Apple launches, the ‘iGlasses’ will transform how many of us interface with information.

Which lays out the magnitude of the opportunity to build the smart glasses market to decent scale before Apple gets in.

I look forward to seeing who wins, and as a consumer to reaping the benefits of the massive innovation and investment going into the space.

Ross Dawson is globally recognized as a leading business futurist, keynote speaker, and strategy advisor. He travels the world helping major organizations think about the future, having delivered keynotes and executive workshops in 27 countries across six continents.