December 10, 2019

Apple’s iOS 13.1 beta reveals AR headsets with 58- to 68-degree FOVs

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After finding code within Apple’s iOS 13 betas for a stereo augmented reality solution called “StarBoard,” developers have continued to dig for clues as to what the company’s AR hardware will be able to do. Today, developer xSnow (via 9to5Mac) has revealed two significant discoveries in an iOS 13.1 beta: field of view specifications for three different AR headsets, and a working StarTester mode that demonstrates how the hardware will work.

Prior discoveries within iOS 13 suggested that Apple is testing three AR headsets that are tethered to an iPhone, relying on the pocket computer for graphics rendering and other processing while using a separate handheld controller for input. Apple has patented a variety of display technologies and possible headset features, but there is still considerable ambiguity over the direction a final product will take.

According to xSnow, the three AR headsets codenamed Luck, Franc, and Garta each have different fields of view, as follows:

  • Luck: 58 degrees diagonal (46 by 34)
  • Franc: 61 degrees diagonal (47 by 40)
  • Garta: 68 degrees diagonal (49 by 47)

Even the smallest field of view is larger than Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, which is 52 degrees on the diagonal (43 by 29), and Magic Leap One’s, which is 50 degrees diagonal (40 by 30), though it should be noted that each of the numbers is based on a different aspect ratio. If the ratio was 1:1, the AR display would look like a square in front of your eye; HoloLens 2 uses a 3:2 box that’s 50% wider than it is tall, and Magic Leap 1 uses a 4:3 box that’s 33% wider than its height. Users have complained that the small “augmented” areas of early AR glasses is like seeing a small virtual window floating in front of your eyes, rather than something more immersive.

Assuming the numbers are correct, Luck is 35% wider than its height, while Franc is 17.5% wider, and Garta is 4.25% wider. The variations suggest that the company is either planning to support multiple third-party AR headset displays, or still testing its own solutions to decide which to support. Luck might fill less of your peripheral vision while looking closer to “cinematic,” while Garta would have a bigger but more square box.

xSnow also posted videos from the StarTester mode, which he says he hacked to work on the iPhone X and iPhone XS despite code designed to limit it to iPhone 11 models. While the videos use his own scene contents rather than Apple’s, they depict stereoscopic views of a semi-realistic ground texture and more realistic objects, alongside 3D text, all rendered smoothly on the iPhone XS but with artifacts and glitches on the iPhone X.

As the StarBoard and StarTester features are clearly both in beta — and then, officially unrevealed by Apple — no conclusions should be drawn as to the performance or limitations of the software at this stage. But the early specs do suggest that Apple is working to improve upon the marginal fields of view found in existing AR headsets, though the jump appears less likely to be a doubling leap than a small hop forward.