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Apple has a team working on projects more secret than the next iPhone

It’s no surprise that Apple prides itself on secrecy, but a new report has revealed a range of projects even more hush-hush than the next iPhone or even the AR headset. As revealed in a new report by Bloomberg’s Gurman, Apple’s Exploratory Design Group (XDG) is one of the most secretive teams in Silicon Valley, and prick-less glucose monitoring is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Likening the XDG team to Google’s so-called Moonshot Factory, Gurman reports in his latest Power On newsletter that the group operates as an internal “startup” with a staff of a few hundred engineers and “academic types.” He says the team, which is given the money and the scope to explore long shots and ideas that may not have an immediate application or even be practically feasible, is “organized by skill sets rather than individual projects.” And the team has already achieved notable successes, according to Gurman, with many of the battery and low-power chip technologies it has developed ending up as features of the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Aside from the glucose tracking project, XDG is currently working on “next-generation display technology, artificial intelligence, and features for AR/VR headsets that help people with eye diseases,” Gurman claims. It isn’t clear from the report what makes the displays “next-generation” specifically–one would assume folding screens are part of their purview–but the other two areas are known to be long-term priorities for Apple: the company’s first AR/VR headset is expected to debut this year and herald an entire ecosystem of related products, while AI is an obsession for the industry as a whole that Apple has been tackling in its own way.

Gurman says the team’s work is so secretive, “people working on one project within XDG aren’t allowed to communicate about their work with other members of XDG that are assigned to different projects.”

It’s often argued that Apple is a slow-moving cruise ship of a company, one that is institutionally cautious and reluctant to enter new markets. To a degree this is true, and it has more than most firms to lose if it jumps recklessly on the wrong bandwagon. But it also has vast resources, and you can bet that for every market that Apple chooses to target, there are dozens more that it has carefully evaluated and rejected for lack of value or practicality. In the same way, not everything the XDG team works on will bear fruit in a shipped product, but it’s well worth having a group within the company that has the freedom to try things out without commercial pressure.