Considering how many cool augmented reality apps we have seen and discussed at he MobileMonday Germany National Summit in December, it seems clear that this will be one of the next big things. (Or see on iPhoneNess here for a list of augmented reality iPhone apps). However, current handling by holding your smartphone up and shifting around in front of you is probably not a sustainable mode of operation.
So head-mounted devices (not even considering 3D for the moment) would be the next thing to provide an easy user-experience for augmented reality. Whether the proposal outlined in the patent filing is the best approach is to be seen.
Would Apple really take this up ? In the past their approach has been to use an existing category, e.g. MP3-player, smartphone and create a device, iPod, iPhone with superior customer experience and end-to-end integration. The iPad is the first where they have really driven a new category and not taken the existing netbook category and evolved it further. Although admittedly there have been tablet PCs and eBook readers available before, but not to a significant market presence. So a head-mounted device would clearly be pushing this new category approach even further.
On the other hand the patent filing outlines more an accessory to an iPod or (smaller) iPhone than a new device category. Wearing classes myself for the largest part of my life I think that the accessory approach would probably be not very comfortable and too heavy to wear over a longer period of time. Some kind of head-up display projected into glasses would probably be more suitable for long-term usage in augmented reality applications. So taking the accessory approach I would rather see a small, bluetooth connected projector that can be attached to glasses.
But definitely pushing this with a convincing user experience is a fascinating next step to watch.
[Update:] Well, I played around with my iPod nano a bit and the challenge is that the eyes have difficulties, i.e. it is impossible, to focus at the close distance of classes on the picture on the screen. I don’t think that this is a resolution issue, so some more research is probably necessary to make this work.