Apple Glasses could project a screen straight onto your eyeballs

Apple Glass - Apple logo seen through a pair of glasses
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Girts Ragelis)

Another Apple Glasses rumor suggests the upcoming smart headset, or its successor, could project a screen directly onto your eyeballs, skipping traditional displays entirely. 

That’s according to a new patent, which calls the tech a ‘direct retinal projector’ – like AppleInsider (who first noticed the patent), we’ll take the high road and avoid the obvious ‘retina display’ jokes. 

The ‘direct retinal projector’ also tracks where you’re looking so that it can use mirrors to accurately reflect a light field – aka the content that would be displayed on a traditional screen – right into the wearer’s pupils. Yes, this sounds as intense to us as it does to you.

Apple Glasses

(Image credit: USPTO / Apple)

The tech as described in the patent sounds like a complex arrangement of controllers, scanning mirrors, an ellipsoid mirror, and a projector, though the patent details plenty of configurations that could include other elements of the eventual design. Most importantly: these potential systems are for AR and/or VR, suggesting Apple is keeping both possibilities open for future Apple Glasses.

Analysis: the state of the Apple Glasses

The Apple Glasses have been rumored for years as the company’s foray into AR, VR, or both – predictions that have shifted over time as new leaks and patents appear. 

Most of these have suggested we’ll get an initial device in 2022 and a more developed AR and VR follow-up in 2023, with rumors debating whether the first device will just be an augmented reality headset, a la Google Glass, or if it will have both AR and VR right off the bat.

The new patent could apply to either of these devices, though given it was filed in January 2017, it’s unclear where this would sit in Apple’s roadmap. The iPhone maker reportedly started buying companies in a seeming bid to make AR and VR glasses, starting with VRvana in November 2017 and then Akonia Holographics in August 2018. We expect there are others we haven’t noticed, but it does point to Apple producing headsets with physical lenses or screens, so we’re curious how much Apple would invest in a direct-to-pupils solution before releasing a more conventional AR headset first.

Perhaps the most important rumor we heard in 2021 is that noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts the Apple Glasses may arrive in the first half of 2022, finally ending our extended speculation on Apple’s biggest new product since the Apple Watch. But given that news emerged in June, we’re cautiously skeptical as we haven’t heard any more confirmation about that release window. 

David Lumb

David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.