Report: Here Are the Apps Apple Is Prepping for Its AR/VR Headset
You ready to read books in Apple’s mixed reality headset?
On June 5, Apple is widely expected to announce its long-rumored mixed reality headset during its WWDC 2023 keynote. Rumored to cost a whopping $3,000, CEO Tim Cook and his “crack marketing team” will have to answer the most important question of all: what will people use the headset for?
That question has been looming over the headset. What is the killer app? The original Macintosh invented personal computing. The iPod put thousands of songs in your pocket. Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone as a “widescreen iPod with touch controls,” a “revolutionary mobile phone,” and “a breakthrough internet communicator.” The iPad ended up filling the gap between an iPhone and Mac as a consumption device for books, movies, and games — and in recent years as a laptop-ish replacement and drawing device for creatives. The Apple Watch found its footing with fitness and AirPods are self-explanatory.
But what’s gonna sell the Apple headset? Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has a bombshell report listing the many apps that Apple is reportedly working on as the headset announcement nears. Everything from FaceTime, to watching videos, to gaming, to using Apple’s homegrown iWork suite seems to be on the table.
Reworked iPad apps
The most interesting tidbit to me is that Apple is seemingly using the iPad, not the iPhone, as the blueprint for the headset’s xrOS software. Gurman says that by adapting iPad apps, the headset will have “millions of existing apps from third-party developers via the new 3D interface.” The interface, will reportedly, look similar to the iPad’s home screen grid of icons.
“The push will include optimized versions of the Safari web browser and Apple’s services for calendars, contacts, files, home control, mail, maps, messaging, notes, photos and reminders, as well as its music, news, stocks and weather apps,” writes Gurman.
This makes sense. By optimizing iPad apps, the headset will have a built-in library to draw from. Whether the iPad-turned-headset-apps will be any good is a different question. Will they be reworked with 3D elements or function as 2D? I am cautious that tweaked iPad apps will be any good. There still isn’t an Instagram app for iPad, and it’s been over 12 years since the app came out.
Apple’s Headset Apps
Now for the apps themselves. In addition to the boring ones like contacts, files, and mail, Gurman’s reporting that a more advanced version of FaceTime is being prepared. This headset version will reportedly feel like people are looking right at each other, as in real life.
Other use cases for the headset: reading in Apple Books, taking photos with one or several of the cameras expected to cover the face of the headset, watching Apple TV content and viewing sports on a big virtual screen.
Gaming could be a solid selling point, but Apple will have to show titles that aren’t just modified versions of existing games on Apple Arcade. If the Quest headsets get anything right, it’s immersive gaming.
On the health front, Apple is planning a meditation app and Fitness+ app where users can “exercise while watching an instructor in VR.” Fitness makes sense, too, but only if the headset is light, and the band is breathable and has a way to limit sweating. Sweating in a headset doesn’t sound fun. It’s already not fun on the Oculus VR headsets.
The apps that pique my interest most aren’t the obvious ones like FaceTime or Apple TV, but the work-related ones. Gurman says there’s a version of the Freeform app for collaborating and that Apple “sees as a major selling point for the product.” Users will reportedly be able to air type (yes, air type) in iWork apps like Pages, Numbers, and Keynotes. My question is: are people really going to fork up three grand to use these productivity apps? I wouldn’t; I don’t even use them on my $4,000 MacBook Pro. Other “work” apps in development are iMovie and GarageBand. I guess I’m having a hard time envisioning people editing videos (short form or feature-length) and making music in a headset that’s only supposed to have a 2-3 hour battery life.
Apple Headset Apps
- Apple Books
- Apple TV
Consumption Is An Easy Sell, Creation Is Harder
I’ve tried enough consumer VR and AR headsets to have a strong understanding of what kinds of use cases work and what don’t. Watching movies and playing games is an excellent experience for headsets, especially when developers go above and beyond to add depth and spatial sound that you can’t get from most phones or laptops. But I have my doubts about whether anyone will be reading books in a headset. It’s entirely possible that I’m not imaginative enough to see this future, but it sure sounds silly. E-readers and tablets haven’t killed good old-fashioned paper books yet, and probably never will.
I also have concerns about working and creating in virtual reality. Meta has made strides in working in VR, but apparently, not even the people who work at the company want to work in VR. That’s troubling. I have first-hand experience seeing how janky gestures and hand-tracking can be in Quest headsets, so air typing sounds goofy as hell. There’s no tactility, which could make it worse than typing on an iPad’s glass screen. I hope Apple proves me completely wrong and I’m knocked off my socks in a few months, but unless Apple showcases how creating in the headset is demonstrably better than on its existing devices, creation is gonna be a tough sell. Meta hasn’t had success with work on Quest, Microsoft couldn’t make 85 happen with HoloLens, and neither could Magic Leap. Can Apple succeed where they all failed?
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