An Apple Vision Pro Pencil could be on the way, based on a new patent

We now know that the Apple Vision Pro is going to be available to buy from February 2, with preorders opening on January 19, but a newly discovered patent suggests that Apple engineers are busy looking to the future of the mixed reality headset.

The patent, spotted by Patently Apple, shows what looks like a giant Apple Pencil. The idea is that the implement could be used to write or draw in virtual space, or to select and manipulate items that exist in virtual or augmented reality.

“A handheld controller with a marker-shaped housing may have an elongated housing that spans across the width of a user's hand and that can be held like a pen, pencil, marker, wand, or tool,” reads part of the patent application.

And while a “head-mounted device” like the Vision Pro is extensively referenced in the documentation, this peripheral could also be used with phones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches, and other devices, according to the patent.

Apple Vision Pro Pencil patent diagram

Like the Apple Pencil… but bigger (Image credit: USPTO/Apple)

Virtual paint brushes

One of the cool little tricks that this implement might offer, as per the patent, is being able to display a range of “brush heads” that are only visible in AR – so it could change from looking like a paintbrush to a spray can inside the Vision Pro headset, for instance.

We've got minions of swipes and waves and shakes, as well as writing and drawing, so there's clearly lots of potential for whatever this device is. All these movements would be measured via sensors built into the pencil itself.

Apple has made a point of saying that you only need your fingers and hands to manipulate the software environment inside the Vision Pro headset, but we've also seen other patents that suggest other input methods are currently being worked on.

The usual patent disclaimers apply here: these filings give us some ideas about the tech that companies are developing and thinking about, but at the same time there's no guarantee that an actual product will result from them.

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Apple Vision Pro patent reveals some less-creepy uses for its external display

The Apple Vision Pro headset is potentially just weeks from launching, if the latest rumors are to be believed, but a few new details about the external display may have been leaked via an Apple patent. 

According to the document (first reported on by Patently Apple) the headset’s external display won’t just be able to enable EyeSight – which shows onlookers the wearer's eyes in a kinda creepy way – but will also be able to display a much wider array of images.

A person wearing an Apple Vision Pro, you can see their eyes on the external display

How EyeSight looks on the Apple Vision Pro (Image credit: Apple)

So far Apple has only shown the Vision Pro’s external screen displaying two things: the wearer’s eyes when they’re in mixed reality, and a colorful pattern when they’re fully immersed in virtual reality. But using the display to show a wider mix of icons makes a lot of sense, and would be useful.

A flashing “do not disturb” sign, for example, could alert people around you that you’re in an important virtual meeting or trying to focus on something, while displaying a virtual scene on the external display would give people around you an idea of what you’re looking at. 

The patent also reveals alternatives to Apple’s realistic EyeSight feature. Rather than showing a photorealistic image, the wearer's eyes could be shown as digital dots and lines, in the style of an expressive robot – still a little creepy-looking, but maybe not so weird in practice.

Various Apple Vision Pro headsets showing different ways the external display could be used

Examples from Apple’s patent showing how the external display could be used (Image credit: Apple)

Other examples in the patent document, like the clock or current weather conditions, aren’t super-helpful while you’re wearing the headset but could be handy when you aren’t. While the Vision Pro is charging on your desk the external display could be set to show you useful info like what’s on your calendar for the day, or simply what charge the headset is at.

As with all tech patents, there’s no guarantee that we’ll ever see these features in action, and even if they are on their way to the Vision Pro, they might not be ready at launch or for a while after. Until the headset is in people’s hands we won’t know what it is or isn’t capable of.

However, if Apple is indeed close to launching the headset, it shouldn't be too long before all of our Vision Pro questions are finally answered.

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This bonkers Apple patent could solve one of VR’s biggest problems

Apple might have found a wild solution to VR’s prescription lens problem; liquid lenses.

VR headsets and glasses don’t usually mix well. Often they sit too close to your face for glasses to fit in front of your eyes, and the solutions deployed by headset designers are a mixed bag – some package in optional spacers that make room for specs like the Oculus Quest 2, while others include a prescription lens attachment (but you need to buy lenses for it at an added cost) like the Apple Vision Pro, and a few do nothing at all.

This has resulted in some glasses wearers feeling like VR isn’t accessible to them, but that might change if Apple’s latest patent comes to one of its headsets.

According to the patent granted in the US (via Apple Insider) Apple has created a design for an “electronic device with liquid lenses.”  The document describes a “head-mounted device” (sounds like a VR headset) with “tunable liquid lenses.” You can read the patent for the full details, but the TL;DR is that electronic signals sent to the lenses will deform the liquid in them and alter the refractive index of the lenses. 

This should allow the liquid lenses to correct a wide range of eyesight issues without the need for any accessories. What’s more, the correction is calibrated by the headset’s eye-tracking system.

Apple’s patent also states that it could apply to a “pair of glasses.” We can’t read too much into patent wordings, but this could hint at the Apple AR glasses that Apple apparently also has in development.

When will we get liquid lenses? 

Apple logo seen through a pair of glasses

Apple’s liquid lenses could bring VR and AR into focus (Image credit: Shutterstock / Girts Ragelis)

As with all patents we need to note that there’s no guarantee that we’ll ever see these liquid lenses appear in a real headset – one that’s made by Apple or otherwise. While the design exists in theory, it might be less than practical to add liquid lenses to a commercially available headset – either from a design or cost perspective. Alternatively, Apple might develop a different solution to VR’s prescription problem.

What’s more, even if liquid lenses do appear in an Apple headset you or I could pick up off the shelf there’s no telling when that will happen.

It’s probably an impossibility for the first-generation Vision Pro to launch in early 2024, and we’d be surprised if it appeared in the second-generation headset that rumors predict will appear sometime in the next few years. Instead, it seems far more likely we’d see liquid lenses in the third-generation model (assuming we see them at all) in half a decade or so – as this would give Apple plenty of time to hone the design.

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