Mysterious Apple Vision Pro patent could turn virtual objects into physical ones

Vision Pro Panoramic photos
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has been granted a new patent for a physical AirTag-like item that could be used to represent a virtual object in the real world.

The patent appears to be aimed squarely at the Vision Pro headset, but the wording is sufficiently vague that it is difficult to truly understand what Apple has in mind. There are some clues, however, and it seems Apple wants to give people a way to take something virtual and turn it into a physical item.

Why that could be useful isn't immediately clear, but it's something Apple now holds the patent for should it want to make it happen.

Apple 'iStone'

Patent number 11733959 describes "physical companion devices for use with extended reality systems" and shows small accessories that appear similar to an AirTag in size. Those accessories don't necessarily need to have circuitry inside, the patent notes, but could do in some implementations.

The patent, first spotted by Patently Apple, describes these accessories as a "stone" or "go stone", with Apple's plan being to allow people to use them as physical placeholders for virtual content. As an example, the patent describes a stone being used to transport content in the physical world so that it can be accessed later. Almost like a USB stick for saved files.

"In this way, a user of an XR system can be provided with a portable companion device (sometimes referred to herein as a “stone” or a “go stone”) that can be carried with the user to transport content from the XR environment within the physical world," the patent explains.

It goes on to say that "The associated content can then be accessed at a later time by the same XR system when the companion device is detected by the XR system, and/or by other devices and/or XR systems when the companion device is detected by those devices and/or systems." An XR system is, of course, an extended reality device like the Vision Pro headset.

"In this way, the user of an XR system can be provided with the ability to carry content, such as a stack of digital photographs, the state of an active document or application, and/or digital currency (as examples) within the physical world for later access by various devices or systems," the patent explains.

Why that would be useful, however, isn't clear. Apple's cloud storage systems seem ready-made for this kind of thing but it's possible that Apple has something in mind beyond moving files around. Time will tell, and with Apple's headset not set to go on sale for months yet, it's possible all will become clear soon enough.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.