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Apple could be planning new wearables, starting with Carl Zeiss smart glasses

It appears that Apple might be getting in on the smart glasses game, a risky market in which Google famously failed with its botched Google Glass project. The much-maligned Google Glass project was scrapped after becoming the subject of online mockery for its awkward product design and high price tag. According to Bloomberg, however, we may see Apple-branded smart glasses as part of Apple’s new wearables push, following on the success of the Apple Watch.

It’s important to note that these are still rumors, but Apple may have already approached potential suppliers to acquire small quantities of near-eye displays for internal testing. Speaking with unidentified sources within Apple, Bloomberg claims that the contemplated Apple smart glasses would connect wirelessly to iPhones, and would display images and other information in the wearer’s field of view, and might even employ a version of augmented reality (AR).

The AR angle lends a little more credence to these rumors than they might otherwise warrant. Apple CEO Tim Cook has been an outspoken proponent of AR in the past, mentioning on a conference call in 2016 that the company has invested a lot of time and money in AR and plans to continue to invest in the nascent technology.

If anyone could pull this off, it would be Apple. The firm has a long history of building on existing technology by simply improving on design, and in fact, some of its greatest success stories have been innovative takes on existing — and popular — technologies. The iPod, iPhone, and Apple Watch all built on existing technology by seeking to improve the design and user experience. While the Apple Watch may still be in the early stages in terms of market acceptance, the iPod and iPhone have had an immense impact on their respective market spaces, transforming them entirely.

More recently, specifically at CES 2017, new speculation popped up that could provide some clarity to Apple’s possible AR plans, Apple Insider reports. According to Robert Scoble, Apple’s AR plans could involve leading optics company Carl Zeiss, which manned a booth location in the AR section of the CES 2017 floor but didn’t show off any new AR products.

Scoble speculates that Apple could have convinced Carl Zeiss to keep products resulting from a partnership under wraps, which would explain the curious lack of AR products being shown. Mac Insider notes that Carl Zeiss produces the VR One Plus headset that adds AR capabilities to smartphones, and so that company has some experience in the field.

So, while it’s likely a long way off, and may never happen, Apple-branded smart glasses could be just the kick that augmented reality needs to get off the ground as a ubiquitous, everyday piece of technology.

Article originally published in December 2016. Updated on 01-09-2017 by Mark Coppock: Added the new speculation around Apple’s possible involvement with optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss.