The iPhone 8 could pair with mixed reality glasses
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Apple patent drawing for OLED phone. Credit: USPTO

Apple patent drawing for OLED phone. Credit: USPTO

Tech evangelist Robert Scoble wonders where Facebook and Apple will go next on mobile and wearables

Robert Scoble has announced through Facebook that 2017 will see some major innovations for consumer electronics, starting with a next generation, “mixed reality” iPhone 8, and this development will pose a major challenge for Facebook’s own virtual reality efforts.

Earlier reports indicated that the device, though incorporating a number of advanced features like the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display screen with an edge-to-edge design and a capacitive fingerprint sensor to replace all buttons on the display face. The latter technology has been in development since at least 2014, so could very well be introduced next year.

Scoble, though, says the new device will go well beyond even these features.

The new iPhone 8 body, according to Scoble, will be layered Gorilla Glass that, when paired with a headset with eye sensors, will offer unprecedented high-quality imaging and an augmented reality experience for the average consumer.

Feeding into speculation on this is the news that Apple did not include major design changes for the iPhone 7 in order to perfect new technologies in the pipeline, perhaps to boost the iPhone’s tenth anniversary offerings next year.

Testing Gorilla Glass. Credit: Corning / YouTube

Testing Gorilla Glass. Credit: Corning / YouTube

Are the components there yet?

The display technology, though in advance of present-day systems, is within reach. Apple expects to make OLED technology standard in the iPad Pro by 2018: it is already used for the Apple Watch, and the company took a patent out on it for smartphones in 2013. Other companies are also investigating new display technologies. Samsung has registered a patent for bendable smartphone displays in the US, and so manufacturer Xiaomi may do so as well. The glass, then, proposed for the iPhone 8 is buildable with current technologies.

But it is not clear how Apple will leapfrog ahead in less than a year with other materials science challenges, especially in battery technology. Though the iPhone 8 is expected to have wireless charging and an OLED is more energy efficient than an LCD screen, the device will almost assuredly rely on a traditional lithium-ion setup for its batteries, and that system is reaching its limits. Even the most likely replacement for lithium-ion, silver-zinc, is still considered too expensive to switch over despite offering more energy efficiency.

Even the challenge of antenna miniaturization for wearables and smartphones is a comparatively easy challenge against the problems power plants face going forward.

We’ve reached out to Scoble for comment on this possible hurdle, and what innovations Apple may have in mind to clear it, and will update with any reply.

Augmented reality alliance?

While the exact specifications and timeframe for the iPhone 8 remain murky, it is no surprise that Apple would be moving into wearables, especially glasses, and augmented reality technology. Apple sees this market as a new horizon, and, according to Scoble, perceives an opportunity to join forces with Facebook to develop the technology further by building on the social media empire’s billions of users and data collection experience. Spatial computing, Scoble noted in a blog post earlier this year, “is the fourth visible user interface of the personal computer era.”

“The clear iPhone will put holograms on top of the real world,” according to Scoble. But the nearest competitor to this proposed technology – the Microsoft HoloLens – will in fact be commercially sold this November. Though consumer applications may be limited at first for the HoloLens, reviewers see immediate applications in B2B and education. The HoloLens, though, is still quite expensive, at several thousand dollars for the most basic model.

Product demo of Microsoft HoloLens. Credit: Microsoft / YouTube

Product demo of Microsoft HoloLens. Credit: Microsoft / YouTube

Apple’s Tim Cook believes that augmented reality will be a more productive area for expansion than virtual reality (VR), and Facebook has long been interested in augmented reality – while still betting heavily on its own Oculus Rift VR, of course. They would need to move quickly, though, as Microsoft already has a head start, one that took years to reach, and Snapchat is also a potential competitor with a lead. (Snapchat previously turned down a $3 billion offer from Mark Zuckerberg in 2013.)

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