It’s no big secret that Apple has little interest in pursuing VR devices to challenge the likes of the HTC Vive or Samsung Gear VR, and there’s also no sign of an impending iContender for Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

Instead, Tim Cook has been very clear about the perceived groundbreaking potential of augmented reality, so far timidly leveraged by iOS app developers using the inaugural ARKit, as well as the iPhone X’s innovative but still primitive TrueDepth camera system.

In addition to a predictable second version of the ARKit software tool collection reportedly planned for a 2018 release, those long-rumored Apple smart glasses might be starting to shape up, according to “people familiar with the situation” quoted today by Bloomberg.

After a couple of years of concept work already, the mystery AR headset is purportedly still at least two or three years away from a commercial rollout. That’s because Apple has no intention to tether this thing to a phone or PC, preparing among others a special new in-house chip.

Think the Apple Watch family’s “System in Package”, combining a CPU, graphics processor, AI chip and possibly even more components to occupy significantly less space than a conventional smartphone SoC.

That would be the heart of the operation, with the brains taking after iOS, and carrying the self-explanatory rOS internal name. This “reality operating system” is of course in the very early stages of development, but until the first hardware prototypes are ready sometime in 2019, the standalone AR-enabling software could be tested on tweaked HTC Vive units and even Gear VR-like shells compatible with iPhones.

If everything goes according to plan, Apple’s first independent AR headset could produce “virtual meeting rooms and 360-degree video playback” in 2020, as well as support a range of mapping and texting apps accumulated in a dedicated version of the App Store. Possible ways to control the smart glasses include touch panels, voice commands and head gestures, though final decisions may not be made until one or two years down the line.

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