With all the talk about the metaverse — a platform that Mark Zuckerberg thinks is the successor to the mobile internet — it seems Apple is ramping up efforts to release an AR headset of some sort that could allegedly replace the iPhone in 10 years.
Murmurs about Apple’s AR/VR glasses/headset project have been ongoing for years. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and the TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo have both come out swinging with updates and timelines on Apple’s Next Big Thing.
What is the Apple headset?
Apple’s first headset is believed to be a standalone mixed reality headset capable of both virtual and augmented reality with a glasses-like form factor further down the line, according to Gurman.
Apple is reportedly making it possible to change out the lenses for prescription lenses. However, Gurman speculates that this could complicate things for Apple internationally, as selling a product with prescriptions is regulated differently across the world.
Will the Apple headset be powered by Apple silicon?
With Apple heavily investing in its own chips for iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and Mac desktops, there’s a clear pattern that would suggest its rumored headset would use custom silicon. Just a few days ago, Kuo wrote to investors that the headset will use a processor similar in performance to the M1, with a second co-processor handling sensor tracking.
Previous reports suggested Apple would wirelessly tether any AR/VR headset wirelessly to an iPhone. This is how other AR glasses like the Nreal Air work — they connect to a phones, which do all the processing. Tethering to a phone allows AR glasses to be lighter — and consequently — more comfortable on your face.
Considering how power efficient Apple silicon is, not needing to connect to an iPhone could be a real strength for Apple’s headset. Apple has always managed to do wonders with smaller batteries thanks to a combination of hardware and software optimization.
What display will the Apple headset use?
A display with a high resolution and refresh rate is the difference between having an enjoyable experience and getting motion sick. According to Kuo, the Apple headset could feature two Sony 4K micro-OLED displays. This coincides with reporting from earlier this year that claimed the headset would use an 8K display.
High-res screens would make the Meta Quest 2’s display look like standard definition in comparison, as the underpowered Meta headset uses a single LCD display with a resolution just shy of 4K. It’d also likely reduce any screen-door effect.
What will the Apple headset look like?
While there are renders floating around in the ether, no one really knows what the rumored Apple headset will look like. But if we take our knowledge of Apple’s design philosophy and apply it here, one thing is obvious: it will look completely different from what everybody else is doing. Earlier this year, Gurman reported that Apple was planning to use a fabric exterior for the device. That would make it look similar to Google’s now-defunct Daydream View VR headset, though that low-tech device relied on a compatible phone to operate.
Will the Apple headset use controllers or hand tracking?
Up until Meta added hand-tracking functionality to the Quest and Quest 2, VR headsets relied solely on controllers, and most still do. However, Gurman says that Apple is testing hand tracking on the headset, using external cameras to gather data in a similar fashion to the Quest 2. Gurman also says that Apple is “working on a feature where a user can type virtually in the air to input text.” It’s not clear if that’s Apple's way of competing with the Quest 2 when it comes to productivity, but it’s at least useful when receiving a message, as you won’t have to remove your headset.
Hand tracking is the future of VR headsets, but it seems that Apple was — and maybe still is — using a controller to test its headset. According to MacRumors, an image of the HTC Vive-like controller was spotted within iOS 14. It’s unknown whether the controller is solely for testing purposes or if a more consumer-friendly version will ship with the headset.
When will the Apple headset be released?
That’s the million-dollar question, and it’s likely that the people working on the device know as much as we do. Kuo stated in October that the headset is on track to launch in Q4 of 2022, which is when mass production is reported to begin. Meanwhile, Gurman speculates that the device could be unveiled at WWDC 2022 with a launch date later in the year, or 2023.
How much will the Apple headset cost?
There are no hard numbers yet, but many speculate the device will considerably more expensive than current offerings from Meta, Valve, or HTC. The Information reports the headset could cost up to $3,000. Bolstering that claim is Gurman, who wrote that insiders believe the headset will be so pricey that retail stores may only sell one headset per day. Honestly, as far as Apple devices go, that tracks.
Is the Apple headset the same as Apple’s smartglasses?
Both Gurman and Kuo have alluded to a second Apple headset: a pair of smart glasses that would use augmented reality. Information is even more scarce for this rumored device, but it would exist to serve a different audience than a mixed-reality headset. What we do know is that both Gurman and Kuo are predicting this device will be unveiled later than the headset in 2023.