There have been plenty of rumours over the years detailing VR headsets, AR headsets and AR glasses, so what exactly has Apple got planned for its augmented reality future? The bevvy of rumours, leaks, acquisitions and new hires at Apple suggest that it could be a combination of all three, possibly due for release over a number of years.
Apple’s AR/VR development team is reportedly comprised of over 1,000 Apple employees, all dedicated to working the emerging technologies into upcoming products. This is backed up by specific AR/VR-inspired Apple hires over recent years, and the company has also acquired a handful of companies that specialise in either AR/VR tech, or content tailored to those platforms.
It makes sense in a way – Apple has always said that AR is a very interesting technology, and it effectively already has the largest AR app offering in the world via ARKit-integrated apps on the App Store, so it wouldn’t be a huge step to transfer AR-focused apps to a headset platform that’d provide a more immersive, enjoyable experience than holding up a smartphone in front of you.
The company reportedly has multiple headset prototypes on the go, focused not only on augmented reality but virtual reality too.
The end game for Apple is expected to be a fully-fledged pair of augmented reality glasses, tentatively dubbed Apple Glass by leaker Jon Prosser, but the tech is still in its infancy and a few years away from release. We cover the latest Apple AR Glasses news separately for those interested in the upcoming smart glasses.
The solution, according to various sources, could be an AR/VR hybrid headset similar to the Oculus Quest 2, due for release in the not-so-far future. Here’s all you need to know about Apple’s foray into the world of AR/VR headsets, including the latest leaks and a possible release window.
What will the AR/VR headset be called?
While the majority of rumours about Apple’s upcoming hybrid headset have referenced it by its function – an AR/VR headset – a recent batch of trademark applications suggests Apple could’ve finally decided on a name.
As first spotted by Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, a swathe of trademark applications have been filed in a number of countries including the US, UK, EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica and Uruguay, all with the theme of ‘Reality’. Applications include references to Reality One, Reality Pro and Reality Processor.
Of course, this is yet to be confirmed – Apple itself isn’t directly associated with the trademark filings – but it’s not unusual for the tech giant to use law firms and shell corporations to cover some of the pre-launch work that has to be done.
When will the Apple AR/VR headset be released?
When it comes to Apple’s initial AR/VR headset, Bloomberg suggests that the headset will be a “pricey, niche” option, and that Apple allegedly expects to only sell 180,000 units (along the lines of the Mac Pro) when it’s released.
Bloomberg suggests that while Apple had originally planned to announce the headset at WWDC 2022, “development challenges related to overheating, cameras and software have made it harder to stay on track,”. The publication suggests that these issues have caused Apple to delay the announcement until early 2023.
That’s backed up by a report from The New York Times, which suggests that release has been pushed back to 2023.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, the report claims Mike Rockwell, an engineer from Dolby Technologies, was tasked with leading the AR/VR effort, though “His early efforts to create an augmented-reality product were hobbled by weak computing power,” and existing challenges with battery power “have forced Apple to postpone its release until next year,”.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo initially believed that the upcoming VR/AR headset will enter its EVT, or Engineering Validation Test stage, in Q3 2022. If positive, Kuo claimed that Apple would host a January 2023 event revealing the headset, with developer kits sent out 2-4 weeks later. Pre-orders would then allegedly start in Q2 2023, with open sales expected to start at WWDC 2023.
However, Kuo updated his prediction in December 2022, claiming that a delay in mass shipment to 2H23 (sometime in the second half of 2023) due to software issues has shifted the timeline. Kuo speculates that the January 2023 media event may be delayed as a result as, if there’s too much time between announcement and release, “it’s detrimental to promotion and sales”.
However, a DigiTimes report paints a slightly different picture. According to industry sources that spoke to the publication, the headset is allegedly currently in the manufacturing validation process, with mass prediction currently scheduled for March 2023. The publication also speculates that an announcement could follow a month later in April 2023, though with a very limited run of headsets initially available.
Reports also suggest that Apple has also ramped up the development of realityOS, the software that’ll run on the headset. That was backed up by a separate discovery of a realityOS trademark in early June 2022, which falls under the categories of peripherals, software and wearable computer hardware.
With all that in mind, we don’t expect to see Apple’s AR/VR headset revealed in 2022, with the delay suggesting a reveal and subsequent release in 2023 is much more likely.
How much will the Apple AR/VR headset cost?
Bloomberg suggests that the headset is expected to be much more expensive than existing standalone VR headsets, which currently range from the £299/$299 Oculus Quest 2 to the enterprise-focused £905/$799 HTC Vive Focus Plus, although the publication didn’t suggest a specific price.
A prediction from JPMorgan Chase industry analyst Yang Weilun suggests that it could be significantly more expensive, allegedly costing Apple around $500 per unit to manufacture, and the huge report from The Information suggests it could be as much as an eye-watering $3,000.
With The Information suggesting that Apple will forgo the consumer market and focus on business, the price begins to make sense – after all, the competing Microsoft HoloLens costs around $3500.
DSCC also believes that the headset will be a premium offering, expecting “the Apple headset to cost several thousand dollars” in an early 2022 prediction, suggesting that it’ll be targeted mainly at “professionals and developers to expand Apple’s ecosystem in AR/VR”.
However, a conflicting claim from Ming-Chi Kuo claims that while it will be premium, it won’t be that premium. Instead, Kuo claims that it’ll be in line with the price of a “high-end iPhone”, costing around $1000 in the US.
With high-end specs detailed in leaks and rumours, a high price tag isn’t much of a surprise.
What to expect from Apple’s AR/VR headset
Apple’s first dedicated headset will focus not only on augmented reality but virtual reality too, with a plethora of details available courtesy of an early 2021 Bloomberg report.
The details seem to have come from an Apple insider following an internal employee meeting in 2020 where execs detailed exciting new features expected to ship with the headset, including 3D scanning and advanced human detection, to aid augmented and virtual performance.
In terms of general design, the headset is said to look similar to that of the Facebook-owned
Oculus Quest 2, albeit with a sleeker design (it’s an Apple product, after all) and lightweight fabrics and materials that help maintain a comfortable fit over longer sessions.
Ming-Chi Kuo suggests current prototypes weigh between 200-300g, but the company is aiming for 100-200g as long as it can solve a few outstanding technical problems.
One area it’s looking to shave off bulk is in the lens department, with Kuo detailing a ‘pancake’ lens system. In a note obtained by Cult of Mac, the upcoming headset will use “3P pancake” lenses supplied by Genius and Young Optics.
The lenses, said to allow for a lighter and more compact design, feature several sheets of glass packed tightly together to reduce the overall form factor. Those with DSLR or mirrorless cameras who use large lenses will be familiar with the concept.
However, despite Apple’s approach to fanless technology – even at the cost of performance, like with the MacBook Air M1 – Kuo suggests Apple may include a fan to keep the headset cool.
While Apple has looked into using its virtual assistant, Siri, to control the headset, the company is also looking into the possibility of bundling a physical remote. Though Bloomberg couldn’t provide details on the remote, the MacRumours discovery of a photo from iOS 14 depicting a controller similar to that used with the Vive Focus could give us a rough idea of what’s expected.
It could also tie into the Remote app on your iPhone, allowing you to control the headset the same way you would an Apple TV, although that’s just an educated guess from us at Tech Advisor right now.
Much of that was backed up by a huge report from The Information, citing sources “with direct knowledge” of the headset, suggesting a similar form factor to the Quest 2, but in a noticeably slimmer shell. Going by drawings from the publication, it could be similar in thickness to a pair of ski goggles. If true, that’s an impressive feat of engineering.
It then followed up months later with more information, suggesting that the headset will offer a combination of “mesh fabrics, aluminium and glass,” and that it’ll both be thinner and lighter than the Quest Pro which measures in at 722g.
It also sheds more light on the potential remote, describing a “thimble-like device” that would be used alongside hand tracking to interact with virtual and augmented objects in realtime.
Per Bloomberg, the headset allegedly features an Apple-designed chip that’s more powerful than the Mac-focused M1 chipset, allowing the company to include a high-resolution display and cameras that allow users to “read small type” and allow the user to “see other people standing in front of and behind virtual objects” according to the reports.
Ming-Chi Kuo suggests that the headset will actually pack two chipsets, with the higher-powered of the two close to the performance of the M1 chipset, while the lower-end chipset will handle sensor operations exclusively. Combined, the headset will offer the “same level of computing power as M1”.
In a follow-up note in early 2022, Kuo claimed that the headset will require the same 96W charger as the 14in MacBook Pro which “proves that Apple AR/MR requires the same level of computing power as the MacBook Pro and is significantly higher than the iPhone”.
The downside to the combination of MacBook-level power and a lightweight design is that something has to be sacrificed, and it seems that may be battery life. According to WCCFTech, Apple isn’t designing the headset to be used for long periods of time, but instead, it’s designed for small, purposeful bursts.
CEO Tim Cook has previously spoken about the concerns he has about how Apple’s products are used for endless scrolling, so this could be a way to force users to dip a toe into the augmented world, rather than live in it.
Ming-Chi Kuo has also suggested that the upcoming HMD from Apple will sport Wi-Fi 6/6E at release to “improve the wireless experience”, offering “significantly better” transmission speed and power consumption than Wi-Fi 5, and pointed towards Oculus Air Link as an example.
The Information suggests the headset could include not one but two 8K displays, putting the headset leagues above the current competition. Not even most TVs offer 8K resolution just yet.
However, Ming-Chi Kuo suggests something a little more realistic; two 4K displays. More specifically, the headset is alleged to make use of two 4K Micro OLED displays from Sony for a high-end AR/VR experience.
Display Supply Chain Consultants adds more spice to proceedings with an early 2022 prediction detailing a triple-display system. It too suggests Apple will use two 4K Micro OLED displays to drive visuals, but also mentions a third relatively low-res AMOLED panel – a first for a VR/AR headset if true.
As explained, the third display could be “for low-resolution peripheral vision, thereby enabling a foveated display system” which could effectively remove the tunnel vision present in all current VR headsets.
To go with the incredibly high-res displays, The Information suggests Apple is planning on including eye-tracking tech that’ll “fully render only parts of the display where the user is looking”, allowing the headset to render lower-quality graphics along the user’s periphery vision and reduce overall computing needs without a noticeable visual downgrade.
In a follow-up report in October 2022, The Information goes a little further on the eye-tracking tech, suggesting that it’ll also be able of scanning your iris. The idea behind this is essentially easy account switching, with users able to put the headset on and automatically be logged into their account, though the report also suggests it’ll be used for payment authentication much like Touch and Face ID.
It’ll also be able to map surfaces, edges and environments with Bloomberg claiming it boasts “greater accuracy than existing devices on the market” to provide true 1:1 tracking in virtual and augmented reality environments. The built-in cameras could also track hand movements, and even project a virtual keyboard onto physical surfaces for typing.
The Information goes a step further, suggesting that the headset will “be equipped with more than a dozen cameras for hand tracking movements and showing video of the real world to people wearing it”. A follow-up report claims that two of these cameras will be dedicated to leg tracking to better emulate the positions of your legs via virtual avatars. Meta is looking into leg tracking for its avatar system, which are currently essentially floating torsos, heads and arms with no legs, though it’s not available on the Quest 2 or more recent Quest Pro.
While the tech – especially the ability to see people standing in front of virtual objects in a real environment – sounds more tailored to augmented reality, Bloomberg and The Information agree that the main focus will instead be virtual reality, with the AR capabilities being “more limited” after allegedly hitting several development hurdles.
Apple allegedly wants to create a dedicated App Store for the headset, putting a particular spotlight on gaming, streaming video content and virtual communication – much like Oculus’ latest standalone headset. According to Bloomberg, the headset will offer “an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment” focused on gaming, streaming content and catching up with friends (or possibly work colleagues, depending on your setup).
Not much else was said on that front until 2022, when iOS developers started noticing references to a new operating system called “realityOS”. It had been spotted in various places, including Apple’s own open-source repository on GitHub, and App Store upload logs too. The latter suggests that, as Bloomberg reported, the headset will likely have its own App Store where developers can submit and distribute apps for the new headset.
Steve Troughton-Smith, a popular iOS developer, shared screenshots of references to realityOS – and a realityOS simulator for devs – on Twitter.
However, more recent reports from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman suggest Apple might’ve shelved the realityOS branding, instead opting for the much more sleek xrOS. Gurman says that XR “stands for extended reality, a term that encompasses both augmented and virtual reality,” in a bid to make consumers more aware that its headset will be capable of both.
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