Internal iOS 13 code spills beans about new Apple AR headset

According to a report from MacRumors, internal builds of iOS 13 contain lines of code referencing what could be an augmented reality headset or pair of smartglasses.

We thought we’d heard the last about Apple’s rumored AR smartglasses when the long-rumored project was widely reported to have been shelved in July 2019. Back then, it was assumed the departure of Apple designer Avi Bar-Zeev from the AR glasses team in January may have been what caused the shutdown, but now it seems that may have been premature. Instead, it seems possible the development was continued.

apple AR glasses patent
A previous Apple AR patent sketch

According to the documentation seen by MacRumors, internal builds of iOS 13 (those not yet released to the public through beta or general release) contain an app called “STARTester”, which swaps an iPhone into and out of a head-mounted mode — presumably to mimic the performance of an AR headset for testing purposes. The app also seems to have two different states for being worn or being held.

That wasn’t all that was unearthed either. More investigation discovered elements like “StarBoard mode”, which came with a selection of “views” and “scenes”. Most of these elements were tagged with the letters “AR” — cementing the presumption they link to augmented reality, rather than a fledgling Apple virtual reality. An internal README file also describes the StarBoard system as being a shell for stereo AR-enabled apps and hints at a device codenamed “Garta”.

So it seems likely Apple is once again developing an AR-enabled headset of some sort. Despite the initial development taking place on an iPhone, it’s unlikely to physically incorporate an iPhone in its usage — such a solution seems inelegant for Apple. Instead, expect an Apple AR headset to be tethered to an iPhone through a Bluetooth or similar connection.

While it seems Apple is still a way off from making its own smartglasses a reality yet, it has already shown off some serious AR muscle in the form of Minecraft Earth, which transposes the game’s familiar blocky visuals onto your real life, through your iOS device.

We’ve also had chance to play with a few AR headsets already. Google’s now-abandoned Google Glasses were the first to see the light of day, while the Vuzix Blade, North Focals, and the Magic Leap One all offered their own way to see the world through a technologically-enhanced filter. The technology isn’t really there yet — but if Apple chooses to enter the arena, then we could see the tech’s prospects take a huge leap forward.

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