Google and Microsoft have both established platforms and hardware for emerging digital realities, but Apple, true to form, hasn't had much to say on the subject. They've shown interest in augmented reality, and we've seen patent filings that indicate research and development, but a recent rumor points to that research ending up in your car instead of a rose gold headset.
MacRumors points to a report to investors by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo—a frequently reputable source for Apple analysis and rumors—that projects Apple will use AR with existing products such as their iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Watch, but more notably, with "new business fields such as autonomous driving systems."
Tim Cook has spoken highly of augmented reality, calling Apple "high on AR in the log run," and noted their continued investment. In addition to the notable absence of comments about virtual reality, Cook has noted that he believes AR is the greater technology despite not thinking of it as the next big thing.
If Apple sees the importance of augmented reality but doesn't look at it as a significant future platform, using the tech to create a better driving experience in the car follows that notion. The simplest implementation would be a heads up display (HUD) that shows directions, speed, and other relevant information (see the cover image up top for an example).
This is not a new idea, as it exists in cars already (just see the video above). It's even something you can add to your car right now, if you don't mind more bright lights in your car. But how Apple plans to make it work with their ecosystem and create a better experience could catapult the technology into a state of greater relevance. Regardless of recent criticism over a lack of innovation, they still wield the staggering ability to change the conversation in technology with a single announcement.
Of course, Apple may have more up their sleeve than just a car HUD. Their implementation of augmented reality across their products could operate synergistically, as the iPhone 7 Plus offers plenty of sensors and cameras capable of mapping depth, allowing it to assist the autonomous vehicle with additional data. But when looking at Apple's current CarPlay offering, it seems more likely it'll offer up no more than a second screen.
Apple's vehicular ambitions have been met with a myriad of difficulties, supposedly resulting in the cessation of the rumored project, but regardless, Apple is still believed to be developing smart car technology of some kind, even if they won't be manufacturing the vehicle. Whether or not it'll actually involve augmented reality remains to be seen, but it sure feels like a missed opportunity if Apple, indeed, believes in AR only as a feature and not as a future platform.