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?
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.