Will Apple AR/VR Headset Be a Game-Changer for the Headset Industry?

Apple has always been a master of anticipation. The Cupertino-headquartered company simply knows how to generate buzz about a device they might be potentially releasing, then leave people rumoring about it. This is precisely the case with the new Apple AR/VR headset reported to be in the process of development but never materialized up to this date. However, Apple seems to be getting more serious about the headset's final release. Since there are no official confirmations but only buzz, we’re left to speculate about what the latest gadget may be like. This is what we know so far.

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Illustration: Milica Mijajlovic

Today, VR headsets stand as the vanguard of consumer technology. The giants in the tech industry – Meta, Google, Sony, etc. – have been scrutinizing space for a while now, hence, it’s not much of a surprise that Apple wants its share as well. However, instead of rushing to be the first to check out the market, the Cupertino giant tends to wait, probe, delay, then decide whether it’s going to release a new gadget or stick to the ones known to grant success. 

As Jobs’ legacy, Apple’s primary objective has always been to bring something new to the table. But the million-dollar question here is whether the consumer interest in AR/VR headsets, along with the overall market, is satisfactory enough for Apple to join. Judging by the rumors, it appears that it is.  

A step into mixed reality  

The long-anticipated AR/VR headset seems to be one of Apple’s products that has been endlessly rumored, but it took an eternity to be materialized…. or it never happened, as was the case with iPhone 9. Even though Apple hasn’t made any official announcement about launching a new product, it is universally acknowledged that the tech colossus is seriously entering the world of AR (augmented reality) and VR virtual reality). The new headset is another step toward the mixed reality (MR) journey.  

Even before the buzz about the AR/VR headset, Apple was rumored to be working on a device that would go big – Apple AR Glasses or augmented reality glasses. Looking like regular glasses, the Apple AR device was supposed to be worn regularly, allowing the wearer to experience augmented reality. Though planned to be released sometime in 2024, the AR glasses are now put on hold, possibly in favor of the long-anticipated AR/VR headset and its successor. Thus, the two gadgets should not be mixed, as they are completely divergent.  

Apple AR/VR headset – what we know so far 

Based on leaks and some reports, these are the key takeaways about the new Apple products. Please don’t take these pieces of information verbatim, as none has been officially confirmed.  

  • The new AR/VR headset is likely to be dubbed Reality Pro 
  • The price of the product may fall in the $1,000-$3,000 range. Chances are that it will amount to $3,000. 
  • The gadget will feature a 3D variant of the iPhone’s OS called xrOS. The internal code name is Borealis. 
  • FaceTime calls will feature realistic renders of participants’ appearance. In other words, whenever you FaceTime, a memoji-like render will appear instead of an actual face.  
  • In terms of design, the headset will allegedly resemble AirPods Max. It will also be equipped with a Digital Crown you use to switch between reality modes.  
  • Among other use cases, the headset could be used as an external monitor for Mac, for watching videos and gaming. 
  • The headset could include a health and wellness angle, along with a feature that will allow users to develop their apps with the help of Siri. 
  • Since Apple has never seemed to resolve weak battery issues, an external battery pack may be needed. It will provide two hours of extra runtime.  
  • The headset will be equipped with sensors on the exterior that cooperate with internal sensors capable of reading eye movement. This will enable users to pick an item by looking at it.  
  • To open an item, users can just pinch their index finger and thumb together. This is quite an innovation, as, with other headsets, you need to use hand controllers.  

How will Apple AR/VR headset differ from its competitors? 

To stand out from its competition, Apple aims to develop a mixed-reality headset that will, in essence, be a 3D version of an OS featured on an iPhone, outfitted with unique eye-and-hand tracking systems. The gadget will offer a completely different experience of virtual meetings and immersive videos. Users can also connect the headset to their Macs and use it as an external display. Given that its software is a 3D variant of the iPhone’s OS, it will be also possible to replicate numerous iPhone and iPad functions.   

The ultimate goal of the company is to take over Meta Platform’s throne and become a leader in the VR industry. Without a doubt, this is a make-or-break gambit: the stakes are high but you can never be certain it will be welcomed heartily.  

With the speculated price of $3,000 for this premium product, Apple is indeed entering an uncertain market. The company’s Technology Development Group consisting of 1,000+ people has invested over seven years in the project. It’s no wonder Apple wants it to become a new source of revenue, taking into account that sales growth is predicted to stall in 2023. After all, the AR/VR headset is the first new category of products Apple is delving into ever since the release of a smartwatch in 2015.  

How will the AR/VR headset work? 

The gadget will be outfitted with several external cameras to scrutinize a user’s hands. It will also have sensors built into the housing to analyze eyes. These will enable the user handling the headset to select an item – a button, list entry, or icon – by looking at it. Then, users pinch their thumb and index finger together to activate the task. There is no need to hold anything as this headset, as opposed to its competitors, doesn’t include any hand controllers.    

The new headset will implement augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), similar to Meta’s headset. Augmented reality overlays digital content on top of real-world views, whereas virtual reality allows consumers to see the content and images within googles.  

The device will include two ultra-high-resolution displays produced by Sony Group Corp. With them, it would be possible to manage the virtual reality and external cameras and thus allow for an AR “pass-through” mode. This implies that consumers will be able to see the actual world via the cameras placed on the headset. In case a consumer wears prescription glasses, Apple will offer custom lenses. 

The headset will include a so-called Digital Crown enabling users to switch between augmented and virtual reality. If users are in virtual reality, they will be completely immersed. When augmented reality is enabled, the VR content disappears and the real environment kicks in. According to Apple’s expectations, this will be the highlight of the product.  

It can’t be stressed enough that some features may be canceled, changed, or added as the product is months from the release and there has been no official announcement.  

FaceTime and videos 

For those who are in a long-distance relationship, parents who are away from their children, or people who just love to FaceTime, Apple has come up with an ingenious idea. Namely, the FaceTime software implemented in the upcoming AR/VR headset will render a user, their face and body, as an avatar in VR. These avatars will let two people, each wearing an AR/VR headset talk as if they were in the same room. Meta’s headset has virtual meeting rooms as well, but it doesn’t feature cartoon-like avatars.  

However, this will be possible only with one-on-one chats. FaceTime sessions that involve several people will normally be possible, but participants will appear as an icon or memoji. The reason for this is the huge processing power needed for the employment of this feature.  

Another core feature that the Apple AR/VR headset will boast will be immersive video watching. The company has been discussing the development of video content for the platform with several media partners such as Walt Disney Co. and Dolby Laboratories Inc. Plus, Apple is working on updating its Apple TV+ material to accompany the headset. As part of the push, two years ago, the company purchased Next VR, a streaming company, to develop sports content in VR.   

The gadget is planned to have a dedicated video-watching feature which will allow a consumer to feel as if they were watching a film on a gigantic screen in another environment, say desert or outer space. It’s worth mentioning (or better to say warning) that consumers may need to wear their AirPods to immerse in full spatial audio, as the headset speakers won’t be much powerful.  

Interface  

XrOS, the OS integrated into the headset, won’t be unfamiliar to Apple users, since it’s basically the iPhone and iPad OS in 3D. This involves Safari web browser, mail, messaging, calendar app, and photos. Apps for company services, like App Store Apple TV+, music, and podcasts will also be included. Thus, when you put the headset on, you will see the main interface that is identical to the one featured on the iPhone and iPad. Here you’ll be able to reorganize icons and pin widgets.  

To input text, you can employ the Siri voice assistant or use a Mac, iPad, or iPhone keyboard. Apple is working on the technology that will enable users to type in mid-air with their hands, however, this feature won’t be included in the initial version of the device. It’s good to mention that you won’t need an iPhone to use the headset. Apple Watch users know that it can’t function without being paired with an iPhone. However, this won’t be the case with the AR/VR headset.  

What about games? Knowing how gaming is popular, the company has developed its own engine to power VR games. Back in 2017, Apple released ARKit and other tools to assist developers in preparing for AR experiences on an iPhone. This prepared the stage for developing applications, games, and services for the AR/VR headset.  

Tech specs 

The new gadget will be outfitted with the latest M2 chip included in Apple’s latest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. The headset will also have a specific processor for graphic and MR experiences. The other chip will be called the Reality Processor, based on the trademark application that the company filed. 

However, such a powerful processor raised the overheating concern while the headset is on a user’s face. To tackle the issue, Apple decided to detach the battery from the headset and put it in an external pack instead. It will be positioned in a user’s pocket and connected with a cable. Another possible solution is integrating a cooling fan like the one on a MacBook Pro. 

Per battery pack, the headset can last about two hours. One slight problem with the pack is that the battery is pretty large – approximately the size of two iPhone 14 Pro Maxes stacked on each other. What may create a hassle is the battery life, which is rather short. Since it lasts 20 hours less than on the latest MacBook Pro, it may require buying multiple batteries and swapping them when playing games or watching films for hours. 

The first version of the headset will be made of premium materials – aluminum, glass, and cushions – and it will be reminiscent of AirPods Max headphones. It will boast a curved screen on the front and speakers on the sides. The headband will assist in fitting the gadget around the wearer’s head.     

Price speculations and expectations    

The new AR/VR headset will be a bit pricey, amounting to about $3,000. The initial version that is planned to be released in mid-2023 is not intended for everyone, but for professionals and (rich) enthusiasts. But, in late 2024 or early 2025, Apple plans to release another, less pricey version of the headset that will cost about $1,500.  

As was the case with previous bigger bets, Apple wants to start slow. In the first year of the release, the company expects to sell about 1 million gadgets. In terms of money, it could be compared to over 200 units of iPhone, the greatest company’s moneymaker.  

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