However, Apple has been conspicuously silent about its plans with regard to virtual and augmented reality. Although Apple has not made any formal announcements (apart from recent statements by Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, regarding VR and AR), it’s patent filings may provide a hint about the direction they are going.
On Tuesday, the USPTO issued a new patent to Apple (USP No. 9,429,579), entitled “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display.” This marks the seventh U.S. patent that Apple has received relating to HMDs. (Samsung has fourteen U.S. patents relating to HMDs, with five of them being design patents.) Although recently issued, the ‘579 patent is a member in a family of patents, whose parent was filed in September 2008. In other words, Apple has been toying with the idea of an HMD for at least the last eight years.
Claim 1 of the ‘579 patent recites:
A head-mounted device that is worn on a user’s head and configured to integrate with a cellular telephone that is removable, the head-mounted device comprising:
a frame that is configured to physically receive and carry the cellular telephone, wherein the frame places a display screen of the cellular telephone in front of the user’s eyes; and
an optical subassembly configured to receive at least one image frame from the display screen of the cellular telephone, wherein the optical subassembly is interposed between the display screen and the user’s eyes.
As described in the specification, the optical subassembly (shown below at 604) may include “lenses, light guides, light sources, mirrors, diffusers, and the like.” Specifically, optical sub assemblies may include “aspherical and diffractive optical arrangements.” In addition, the optical subassembly may also include “one or more optical modules that may be operative to adjust or modify the displayed media based on any suitable criteria.” For example, the “optical modules” may offset left and right images so that the user is given the illusion of viewing media in three dimensions.
As we’ve said before, a company’s patent filings are certainly no guarantee that a commercial product will ever be released. However, based on recent rumors surrounding Apple’s acquisitions, hirings and iPhone 7 technology, it is a good bet that Apple has something in the works.