Samsung patent filing gives clues to future of ‘Ahead,’ its Google-Glass-like device

samsung ahead heads up display patent clab sdc main 1
Google Glass, the ill-fated augmented reality headset that Google canned in 2014, got a spiritual successor in Ahead, a product released earlier this year by an unlikely maker: Samsung. The Korea-based electronics manufacturer has recently filed a related patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that may reveal more of the firm’s plans for the device.

Ahead is a project of Samsung’s C-Lab skunkworks, and it was unveiled at the company’s Developer Conference earlier this year. It’s a small, triangular device that affixes to a helmet via “super-strength” magnets. It pairs with a smartphone via Bluetooth to make and take calls, receive voice notifications, and play music, and sports hardware buttons for adjusting volume, changing music tracks, and dismissing alerts.

But here’s the unique bit: it uses “oscillators” and twin noise-measuring microphones to produce a “surround sound” effect without silencing the environment around you — think open-ear headphones. A Push to Talk (PTT) version supports voice sessions between multiple devices over a two-way radio link.

That’s the current incarnation of Samsung Ahead, but the company’s patent filing is a bit broader in scope. It describes an operating system for a “digital electronic device” that sports built-in support for “electronic display modules” like a screen, plus headphone hardware capable of “MP3” and “MP4” playback and “digital communication.” Cameras capabilities get mention, too — the patent references peripherals like “digital camera” and “camcorders.”

Just what form future Ahead devices might take is a total mystery — the application refers to the hardware alternately as “wearable computers in the shape of a helmet” and “wearable digital electronic devices comprised primarily of smart phones in the shape of a helmet.” But they share one thing in common: smartphone connectivity. According to the filing, an Ahead headset would rely on a form of “wireless” for “portable instant messaging.”

This is not the first time Samsung has toyed around with the idea of augmented reality headwear. In 2013, gadget blogger Eldar Murtazin reported that the company was actively developing a head-mounted display similar to Google Glass, and that it would debut under a new “Gear Glass” brand in March or May of that year.

Those predictions never came to pass, but an application unearthed some time later by The Wall Street Journal showed a pair of translucent lenses with built-in earbuds, clickable side buttons, a front-facing camera, and the ability to pair wirelessly with a nearby smartphone to “take phone calls and listen to music during workouts.” And in 2014, a rumor suggested that Samsung would unveil a Gear Glass headset — one running the company’s Tizen operating system, according to Business Korea — at IFA in September alongside its then-flagship handset, Galaxy Note 4. That never came to fruition, either.

Ahead will have to overcome some of the same obstacles that Google Glass has encountered. According to a 2014 Reuters report, Google Glass’s frustrating hardware limitations — a low-resolution screen, small battery, and weak processor, among others — led 9 out of 16 Glass developers to cease development on the platform. Lack of customers  — a symptom of its niche appeal — played a part, too, as did a budding controversy over the heads-up hardware’s surreptitious recording capabilities. Bar and cafe owners instituted “Glass bans,” and services like Anti-Glass promised to disrupt any third-party facial-recognition apps a Glass user might be running.

On the other hand, the landscape has changed quite a bit since Google ceased public sales of Glass. The company is reportedly testing a revamped headset, a so-called “Glass enterprise edition,” with an upgraded screen and processor, folding hinge, waterproof design, faster Wi-Fi, and a snap-on battery pack.

This new Google offering is described as “durable,” and is bound for health care providers, warehouses, and other partners who will see the prototypical hardware used for hands-free tasks. Microsoft’s HoloLens, an augmented-reality headset with much the same capabilities, is similarly bound for enterprise applications: the Redmond company’s announced agreements with Case Western Reserve University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and others.

Corporate applications could be the key to Ahead getting ahead. So could affordability — HoloLens retails for $3,000, and Google originally priced Glass at $1,500.

Mobile

Rekindled yet again, Nokia’s next-gen phones offer more than just nostalgia

HMD Global, a startup that designs and builds Nokia Android smartphones, wants to put the Nokia brand name back “where it belongs.” It helps that it’s made up of ex-Nokia employees. We go behind the scenes to see how HMD formed.
Computing

Convert your PDFs into convenient Word documents with Adobe or a free option

PDF files are great, but few document types are as malleable as those specific to Microsoft Word. Here's how to convert a PDF file into a Word document, whether you prefer to use Adobe's software suite or a freemium alternative.
Computing

Could the next Microsoft HoloLens be announced at MWC 2019?

After not having a presence at Mobile World Congress for three years, Microsoft is now sending out media invites for a press conference on February 24 during the annual event in Barcelona. Could a next-generation HoloLens be on the way?
Computing

Need to combine a PDF? Here's how to get it done on both Windows and Mac

Sometimes juggling multiple files at once is more of a hassle than a convenience, especially when a single file would do. This quick guide will teach you how to combine PDF files on Windows, MacOS, or with online tools.
Home Theater

Dolby’s secret recording studio app may soon exit stealth mode

In secret testing since June, Dolby's stealth recording and social network app may soon be ready to make an appearance. Dolby 234 blends unique noise-canceling tech with Instagram-like audio filters.
Business

Google is buying mysterious smartwatch tech from The Fossil Group for $40 million

Google is about to step up its smartwatch game. The company has agreed to buy an unnamed smartwatch technology from The Fossil Group for a hefty $40 million. Considering the acquisition, it's clear Google is serious about smartwatches.
Mobile

5G phones make a lot of promises. Here’s what to really expect

There has been a lot of marketing copy expounding the potential benefits of 5G networks, but a lot less on the practical implications of 5G smartphones. There's a reason for that.
Mobile

Here’s how to take a screenshot on an iPad, step by step

The ability to capture screenshots may not be the iPad's most glamorous feature, but it's one of its most useful. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to take a screenshot on an iPad, whether it's an iPad Pro from 2018 or an older iPad model.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Social Media

Here’s how to save someone’s Instagram Story to your phone

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.
Wearables

Lack of regulation means wearables aren’t held accountable for health claims

As fitness trackers become more like health monitors, some physicians are concerned they can lead to over-diagnosis of non-existent problems. It’s already happening with wearable baby monitors.
Mobile

Here’s how to download podcasts and listen to them on Android or iOS

Podcasts have become a cultural staple. Here's how to download podcasts and listen to them on your Android or iOS device, and which apps to use if you're looking to get the most out of the format.
Business

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Mobile

Windows 10 Mobile support ending: Switch to iOS or Android, Microsoft says

A Microsoft support page detailed the company's plans to end support for Windows 10 Mobile in less than a year. Users with devices powered by the platform are suggested to switch to iOS or Android devices.