Apple glasses could have hidden cameras and removable earphones

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited May 2020
Apple's long-rumored AR or VR headset could keep some of its optical components behind an electrically-controlled layer to hide them from view when not required, as well as earphones that could be removed from the head-mounted display and used as speakers.

The Magic Leap One Lightwear AR goggles, an example of a headset
The Magic Leap One Lightwear AR goggles, an example of a headset


Apple has reportedly been working on a form of VR or AR headset or smart glasses for quite some time, with stories regularly surfacing over time for the supposed devices. While most stories have dealt with the technical aspects of the hardware, like display technologies Apple could use for virtual reality or augmented reality purposes, occasionally news surfaces about other elements.

Published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, two patent applications show Apple is still concerned with how the headset could look, as well as unique ways it can provide an improved auditory experience to its users.

Hiding Sensors

The first patent application, "Electronic Devices having Electrically Adjustable Optical Layers," deals with the idea of hiding components. Sensors, cameras, and other elements may be required within an electronic device to drive certain features, with some needing a form of an aperture to the world to function properly.

While these openings can be hidden using windows and optical coatings, this isn't necessarily the best route, as it keeps the design static and unchanged throughout the product's life. The static nature also means the sensor could be affected by the covering in unfavorable situations, such as excessive light reflecting off the covering's window.

Apple's proposal is the use of an electrically-adjustable optical layer to hide the components. By applying an electrical charge, the transparency of the window can be adjusted, allowing the component to work optimally when required.

Changing the transparency also serves the purpose of hiding the component from view.

An example of multiple controllable layers hiding sensors
An example of multiple controllable layers hiding sensors


The layer can include adjustable light transmission, such as a guest-host liquid crystal layer or electrochromic layer. Other layers could also be added to create an adjustable haze, color, or reflectivity, which can be used to help the sensor work ideally when light and other conditions can interfere.

The application suggests this could be used for a variety of electronic device designs, including handheld device housings and head-mounted versions. This infers a system that could be used to hide externally-facing sensors on a headset, but also potentially elements on a smartphone, such as an iPhone's camera, to give a cleaner appearance.

Inventors for the filing are James R. Wilson, James W. Vandyke, and Matthew S. Rogers.

Wilson is a senior product design engineer primarily working as a materials scientist for Apple, and has several patents to his name. Vandyke is also a product design engineer, with a background in medical device and sound processing.

Rogers is a manager of product design materials and coatings for Apple, and has many patent credits in related fields. These include an application for an "Electronic Device with Infrared Transparent One-Way Mirror" and "Electronic Devices with Thin-Film Masking Layers."

Detachable Audio

The second application is for the simply-named "Display System Having an Audio Output Device," which deals with detachable speaker units for a head-mounted display. In effect, it refers to earphones that could be removed from a headset.

Some VR headsets on the market do already offer audio functionality, including in forms where the earphone elements can be removed. Some others rely on users adding headphones, earphones, or another audio source.

In the patent application, Apple suggests the movement of the speakers relative to the headset could make changes to a visual or audio element of the user's VR or AR experience. For visual feedback, this could be indicators to show its movement or position relative to the display, while audio changes could be adjustments to the speaker's volume, equalization, or dynamic range.

An example of multiple controllable layers hiding sensors
An example of multiple controllable layers hiding sensors


It is also possible the headset could use a set of built-in speakers along with detachable versions, with both variants able to be adjusted based on the movement of the removable elements.

The key part of the patent is that the user's experience is affected by the movement of detachable speakers within the real world. While this may provide some benefits for VR applications, such as with games, more practically, it could allow a wearer to know where their speakers are placed without needing to remove the headset.

At the same time, the earcups could switch between modes that allow them to be used for normal audio playback and a second where it plays louder as if it is a speaker.

Images accompanying the application suggest the speaker unit could be earcups on a pivot, allowing them to adjust to the user's ear. The earcups could feasibly be attached for easier storage and transport, and could also be attached using magnets.

Its inventors are listed as James W. Vandyke again, along with Neal D. Evans, Andrew M. Hulva, Robert D. Silfvast, and Christopher T. Eubank.

Silfvast works in product design leadership for Apple with experience in audio products and systems and has patents and applications to match. These range from "Ultra-Low Latency Audio over Bluetooth" to a "Distributed, Self-Scaling, Network-Based Architecture for Sound Reinforcement, Mixing, and Monitoring.

Eubank works in Apple's Technology Development Group as an engineering manager for audio. Evans is also an acoustic design engineer.

Apple files numerous patent applications every week. While the existence of a patent indicates areas of interest for the company's research and development efforts, it does not guarantee the concepts described will appear in a future product or service.

The first patent application is reminiscent of others dealing with sensors in displays. For example, the use of "Light-transmitting windows" keeps cameras and other sensors behind the display layer on an iPhone, with the overlaid area able to be used as part of the screen as usual, but disabled to allow the camera to work normally.

The second's conversion of earphones into speakers has also been raised, with the patent for "Dual mode headphones and methods for constructing the same" explaining how earphones can switch to an amplified speaker mode in specific positions.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 398member
    The title of this piece uses the word 'glasses' - which implies AR - whereas the article itself consistently refers to 'headset' - which most people would (hopefully) associate more with VR.  The features described are also more likely in a VR headset than in, presumably, much more minimalist/stylish AR glasses.  For instance, what earphones could you possibly put on AR glasses which are also big enough to act as independent speakers?  Makes no sense at all.  But I can imagine a VR setup with such (over-ear?) headphones.
    fastasleep
  • Reply 2 of 21
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,480member
    Yeah, I can just imagine the reaction to people wearing this stuff in public. Not just Apple’s offering but anyone making this stuff. Movies continue to poke fun at nerds wearing virtual reality headsets and swinging wildly at virtual monsters with their virtual weapons. We already have the hilarious videos of people falling into water fountains, and falling down escalators while they stare at their phones. Hey, it’s fine for Apple to play around with this and maybe it will find a use in business or science but the thought of a public square populated by humans wearing AR glasses/headsets/whatever makes me giggle at the comparison to SciFi schlock movies you find on Amazon Prime, made in the 50’s.
    macplusplus
  • Reply 3 of 21
    fred1fred1 Posts: 835member
    Please tell me they’ll look nothing like the photograph. Yikes!
    bonobobmacplusplus
  • Reply 4 of 21
    I’ll continue to predict this:

    1. The entire product will be intentionally low-key, with sensors hidden (vs. google glass’ in-your-face approach)

    2. Capture from sensors (e.g., taking pictures with your glasses) will be impossible — way too much of a creep factor.  Apple wants to sell camera phones, not camera glasses and will lean on the privacy-first reputation to explain the “missing” feature.
    mac_dogwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 21
    lkrupp said:
    Yeah, I can just imagine the reaction to people wearing this stuff in public. Not just Apple’s offering but anyone making this stuff. Movies continue to poke fun at nerds wearing virtual reality headsets and swinging wildly at virtual monsters with their virtual weapons. We already have the hilarious videos of people falling into water fountains, and falling down escalators while they stare at their phones. Hey, it’s fine for Apple to play around with this and maybe it will find a use in business or science but the thought of a public square populated by humans wearing AR glasses/headsets/whatever makes me giggle at the comparison to SciFi schlock movies you find on Amazon Prime, made in the 50’s.
    I don't know.  "Everyone" already walks around with their eyes glued to their screens and their ears connected a digital source.  Not long ago people would had said they can't imagine non-geeks doing that.  It would be better for our posture and a little better for our safety to interact with our devices with a HUD than looking down at a handheld screen.  I think it's only a matter of time before glasses with heads up displays are just as commonplace as AirPods.  What's considered unfashionable is changing incredibly fast.
    bonobobfastasleepwatto_cobrabageljoey
  • Reply 6 of 21
    lkrupp said:
    Yeah, I can just imagine the reaction to people wearing this stuff in public. Not just Apple’s offering but anyone making this stuff. Movies continue to poke fun at nerds wearing virtual reality headsets and swinging wildly at virtual monsters with their virtual weapons. We already have the hilarious videos of people falling into water fountains, and falling down escalators while they stare at their phones. Hey, it’s fine for Apple to play around with this and maybe it will find a use in business or science but the thought of a public square populated by humans wearing AR glasses/headsets/whatever makes me giggle at the comparison to SciFi schlock movies you find on Amazon Prime, made in the 50’s.
    you're right about there being a lot of use in business & science.  That's exactly where MS' HoloLens is finding success and attraction.  Where I live, there' s a college that uses HoloLens for teaching, specifically the automotive and nursing departments.
  • Reply 7 of 21
    M68000M68000 Posts: 369member
    We may soon live in a world where cameras outnumber people,  maybe they do already.  Will there be microphones on these too?  Scary.
  • Reply 8 of 21
    emig647emig647 Posts: 2,435member
    Time to buy my remote plot of land in Idaho and live off the grid. That's kind of hard to do when your career is being a mobile developer though.
  • Reply 9 of 21
    lkrupp said:
    Yeah, I can just imagine the reaction to people wearing this stuff in public. Not just Apple’s offering but anyone making this stuff. Movies continue to poke fun at nerds wearing virtual reality headsets and swinging wildly at virtual monsters with their virtual weapons. We already have the hilarious videos of people falling into water fountains, and falling down escalators while they stare at their phones. Hey, it’s fine for Apple to play around with this and maybe it will find a use in business or science but the thought of a public square populated by humans wearing AR glasses/headsets/whatever makes me giggle at the comparison to SciFi schlock movies you find on Amazon Prime, made in the 50’s.
    I don’t walk through town square with my PSVR (or wouldn’t if it were wireless), you use it in a living room. AR glasses would allow you to see everything in front of you, so not sure where the falling down escalators thing comes in. You sound like the people who laughed at the first iPhone owners.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 21

    M68000 said:
    We may soon live in a world where cameras outnumber people,  maybe they do already.  Will there be microphones on these too?  Scary.
    Everyone around you already has a camera and microphone on them. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 21
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,120member
    lkrupp said:
    Yeah, I can just imagine the reaction to people wearing this stuff in public. Not just Apple’s offering but anyone making this stuff. Movies continue to poke fun at nerds wearing virtual reality headsets and swinging wildly at virtual monsters with their virtual weapons. We already have the hilarious videos of people falling into water fountains, and falling down escalators while they stare at their phones. Hey, it’s fine for Apple to play around with this and maybe it will find a use in business or science but the thought of a public square populated by humans wearing AR glasses/headsets/whatever makes me giggle at the comparison to SciFi schlock movies you find on Amazon Prime, made in the 50’s.
    They would be like those Tru-Vu headsets the old people wear when out and about harassing young people in the David Brin novel Earth.
    bageljoey
  • Reply 12 of 21
    Hidden cameras on glasses? I fear I will be punching many people’s face. 
    And this is coming from a ‘privacy focused company’?
  • Reply 13 of 21
    thttht Posts: 4,042member
    fred1 said:
    Please tell me they’ll look nothing like the photograph. Yikes!
    That’s the Magic Leap AR glasses. One of the unicorn companies, where its investors hope they hit it big with a billion+ IPO or is bought for billions. 

    Suffice it to say, it is very likely that Magic Leap took fundraiser money, did the equivalent of burning it as it is looking like they don’t have a viable product, and maybe the founders or executives got a nice payday. 

    The patents are basically any and all ideas that Apple can think of and applying a patent for them. The real product, and rumors seem to say there is a real product trying to get out the door, will look like who knows what. 

    I’d imagine looking at the Apple Watch components, the iPhone camera clusters, projectors, and go through another round of miniaturization and hopefully it will only be 2x as heavy as normal glasses, and come out looking like a pay of robust eyeglasses. 
    fastasleepwatto_cobraStrangeDays
  • Reply 14 of 21
    Hidden cameras on glasses? I fear I will be punching many people’s face. 
    And this is coming from a ‘privacy focused company’?
    Cameras of some sort would be required for AR. That doesn't mean you'd be able to take photos or shoot video with it. So before you start punching people, maybe wait and find out what the actual product is?
    watto_cobraStrangeDays
  • Reply 15 of 21
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    tht said:
    fred1 said:
    Please tell me they’ll look nothing like the photograph. Yikes!
    That’s the Magic Leap AR glasses. One of the unicorn companies, where its investors hope they hit it big with a billion+ IPO or is bought for billions. 

    Suffice it to say, it is very likely that Magic Leap took fundraiser money, did the equivalent of burning it as it is looking like they don’t have a viable product, and maybe the founders or executives got a nice payday. 

    The patents are basically any and all ideas that Apple can think of and applying a patent for them. The real product, and rumors seem to say there is a real product trying to get out the door, will look like who knows what. 

    I’d imagine looking at the Apple Watch components, the iPhone camera clusters, projectors, and go through another round of miniaturization and hopefully it will only be 2x as heavy as normal glasses, and come out looking like a pay of robust eyeglasses. 
    Knowing Apple, this will be released twenty years from now, and it'll be an AR monocle.

  • Reply 16 of 21
    macguimacgui Posts: 2,048member
    fred1 said:
    Please tell me they’ll look nothing like the photograph. Yikes!
    LOL I was thinking something similar when I saw those, thinking that was a prototype. Then I remembered we almost never see Apple prototypes, despite what haters want us to think.


    The entire product will be intentionally low-key, with sensors hidden (vs. google glass’ in-your-face approach)
    I'd like them to be CIA 'low-key' before I'd wear them in public. I have an array of sunglasses I like, and something even remotely like goggles or goggle-ish just wouldn't do.


    Hidden cameras on glasses? I fear I will be punching many people’s face. 
    And this is coming from a ‘privacy focused company’?

    This from somebody who already admits everyone around him has cameras and microphones.

    OTOH, I'd take full advantage of the opportunity to punch some asshole in the face and throat and maybe pop at least one of their elbows (purely in self-defense) because they thought they could take physical umbrage to my wearing 'smart glasses'. So there is a silver lining to bad design.
    fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 21
    Hidden cameras on glasses? I fear I will be punching many people’s face. 
    And this is coming from a ‘privacy focused company’?
    I suggest that you be prepared to discover that punching people in the face can result in being punched in the face yourself.


    watto_cobraStrangeDays
  • Reply 18 of 21
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,186member
    macgui said:
    fred1 said:
    Please tell me they’ll look nothing like the photograph. Yikes!
    LOL I was thinking something similar when I saw those, thinking that was a prototype. Then I remembered we almost never see Apple prototypes, despite what haters want us to think.


    The entire product will be intentionally low-key, with sensors hidden (vs. google glass’ in-your-face approach)
    I'd like them to be CIA 'low-key' before I'd wear them in public. I have an array of sunglasses I like, and something even remotely like goggles or goggle-ish just wouldn't do.


    Hidden cameras on glasses? I fear I will be punching many people’s face. 
    And this is coming from a ‘privacy focused company’?

    This from somebody who already admits everyone around him has cameras and microphones.

    OTOH, I'd take full advantage of the opportunity to punch some asshole in the face and throat and maybe pop at least one of their elbows (purely in self-defense) because they thought they could take physical umbrage to my wearing 'smart glasses'. So there is a silver lining to bad design.
    Hidden cameras on glasses? I fear I will be punching many people’s face. 
    And this is coming from a ‘privacy focused company’?
    I suggest that you be prepared to discover that punching people in the face can result in being punched in the face yourself.


    Perhaps attitudes towards camera-bearing eyewear really have changed in the years since Google Glass was intro'd. 
  • Reply 19 of 21
    macguimacgui Posts: 2,048member
    Perhaps attitudes towards camera-bearing eyewear really have changed in the years since Google Glass was intro'd. 
    Personally, I  thought Google Glasses too geeky looking, and more of an affectation than a tool. Being in a public place, there are no reasonable expectations of privacy. I'm aware of that, yet I venture into the daylight anyway, sans tinfoil hat. Whodda thought it possible.

    It could be that more and more people realize that AR specs are not X-Ray specs and are not recording brain activity sucking data out of ears.

    It's actually hard to imagine any actual, real danger AR glasses would pose to the general public. Of course conspiracy theorists imagine every wearer to be some one out to record some kind of private activity... Who know what's going through their tiny brains.
  • Reply 20 of 21

    Hidden cameras on glasses? I fear I will be punching many people’s face. 
    And this is coming from a ‘privacy focused company’?
    I suggest that you be prepared to discover that punching people in the face can result in being punched in the face yourself.


    Perhaps attitudes towards camera-bearing eyewear really have changed in the years since Google Glass was intro'd. 
    I don't think so.  I know that my tolerance for people punching other people because of a perception has remained much the same, i.e. I'm very intolerant.
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