Report: Patent shows Apple is working on holographic imaging for glasses

Glasses on iPhone 11 Pro
Glasses on iPhone 11 Pro (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • Apple has been rumored to be working on glasses for a long time.
  • A new patent points to holographic imaging replacing displays.
  • Apple says that displays have issues, such as positioning relative to the eye.

A new Apple patent published today suggests that Apple is working on some form of holographic imaging to replace displays in its rumored AR or VR glasses. Apple says that traditional display-based implementations are sub-optimal for multiple reasons, according to AppleInsider.

Apple's concern stems from using lenses or a small display. Alterations to optical components altering the cost of the headset as a whole —and as they grow, cause a cascading cause-and-effect of rising prices and headset size and weight.

The positioning of the displays also makes headsets larger and heavier, something that makes them less comfortable to wear.

Another issue is with the display itself, as its location away from the face forces other components and the enclosure to be positioned further away from the user, which can apply more pressure to the face. If the display could be located closer, and use fewer or lighter components, the headset may be more comfortable to wear.

However, by doing away with the displays and changing the way images are projected, Apple proposes a "system of waveguides to transfer light from an optical system to the user's eyes." That would allow Apple to replace the displays completely. How? I'm glad you asked.

To assist the waveguide, input and output couplers could be used, with the input redirecting light from the display unit into the waveguide, while the output pushes light in the direction of the eye. These generated images could be formed from holographic optical elements, including thin holograms, volume holograms, and surface-relief gratings.

That's way above my head so I'll suggest you head over to AppleInsider for all of the patent breakdown. There's a lot there, but if Apple can indeed ditch displays it will help it make AR or VR glasses that people might actually wear on the daily. And that's a big deal.

Of course, not all patents become real products. Apple patents almost everything its engineers devise. This is one that I have my fingers absolutely crossed for, though.

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.