Apple VR and mixed-reality headset is a new virtual-reality project that the Cupertino-based tech giant has up its sleeves, and the rumors are trickling in to give us insight on Apple's vision for its place in the VR headset market.
With conglomerates like Sony, Valve, Microsoft and Facebook jumping at the opportunity to tap into a lucrative market, Apple wants a piece of the pie, too.
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According to insider information obtained by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, there’s been a secret unit at Apple — shh, don’t tell anyone — working on a VR headset for the past five years. But delays and setbacks plagued the VR unit due to strong-minded Apple hot shots butting heads on how to best design the VR headset for maximum market disruption.
Now, if you think that’s juicy, stick around to ingest all the riveting information we’ve gathered from Apple insiders and leakers for more fascinating insight into Apple’s VR headset, including specs, release date, price and more.
Apple VR and mixed reality headset design
One of Apple’s biggest obstacles with the VR headset is finding a way to pack powerful hardware into a sleek design that could potentially upend the VR market. Unfortunately, the secret Apple VR unit (known as the Technology Development Group or TDG) kept running into issues with overheating.
TDG, spearheaded by Mike Rockwell in 2015, decided to rectify the overheating problem by unburdening some of that powerful hardware from the headset. Rockwell then made the move to construct a small stationary hub, which resembles a small iMac, that would accompany the VR headset.
This Mac-like hub would connect to the VR headset wirelessly, and it would help the system retain its svelte form while still remaining competitively powerful thanks to the stationary hub — and that would be the end of the overheating problem. However, there was someone at Apple who hated Rockwell’s stationary hub idea: Jony Ive — the company’s then design chief.
Ive envisioned an all-in-one headset for the Apple VR headset — no additional peripherals needed. Rockwell disagreed. With the hub he designed, the VR headset would blow its rivals out of the water. Without it, consumers would have to settle for a less-powerful headset. But in the end, Apple’s big wigs sided with Ive. They wanted to sell an Apple VR headset sans the hub.
So what does Apple’s working VR headset look like now? Bloomberg Businessweek’s secret source revealed that the VR headset is visually similar to Facebook’s Oculus Quest headset, but smaller.
The leaker also added that instead of a plastic body, the VR headset will sport a fabric material. This rumor has been substantiated by another Bloomberg article that we reported on at the tail-end of January. Apple plans on using a fabric exterior for the VR headset in order to reduce the device's weight.
To further reduce the device’s weight, Apple is planning to use a fabric exterior. That’s a departure from the metal designs Apple uses for most products, though it has used plastic for devices like AirPods, that need to be light, and fabrics for the HomePod speaker to improve acoustics.
Apple VR and mixed reality headset specs and features
Despite Apple VR’s secrecy, we’ve gathered a ton of information on specs and features you can expect from the Apple VR headset.
- An ultra high-resolution display. Insiders say that the Apple VR headset’s display performance will be so spectacular that it will be difficult for users to differentiate reality and computer-generated simulations.
- External 3D-sensor cameras. The Apple VR headset will be equipped with cameras that can map the user’s surroundings, including silhouettes of nearby people, furniture and rooms. According to The Information, the VR headset will reportedly have 12 external cameras. Not only for tracking eye and hand movements, but also for "ultra-high-resolution 8K displays."
- Powerful processors recycled from Rockwell's rejected hub. The processors are reportedly similar to the AMD-based CPUs that will replace the Intel chips on future macOS systems.
- A gaming app store. The Apple VR headset will have its own store so that users can purchase games and other VR-compatible apps.
- Video-conferencing capability. The Apple VR headset can double as a super high-tech communication system for virtual meetings.
- Video-streaming capability. Users will be able to enjoy immersive film and TV show experiences with the Apple VR headset.
- Vision-auto correct feature. A new patent hints that Apple may be implementing a vision auto-correct feature so that users can ditch their glasses while enjoying their VR headset.
- Siri voice command. What’s an Apple device without Siri?
- A virtual keyboard. According to a Bloomberg article published in January, the Apple VR headset will feature a virtual keyboard.
Apple VR and mixed reality headset release date
The Apple VR headset is slated to hit store shelves in 2022, according to The Information. The Cupertino-based giant is also reportedly planning on releasing a sleeker headset in 2023. So if you’re interested in Apple VR, but you want a more svelte headset, it’s best to wait a year after Apple’s first VR headset launch.
Apple allegedly told its employees that it would start reaching out to developers to build software for its VR headset in 2021.
It's worth noting that in mid-March of 2021, Bloomberg reported that it tapped into a source familiar with Apple who claims that the MacBook maker plans on announcing a mixed-reality headset (meaning a head-mounted display with both AR and VR elements) some time this year. However, we're not convinced that Apple is ready to pull the curtains back on any headset — AR, VR or otherwise — any time soon.
Apple VR and mixed reality headset price
The Apple VR headset will reportedly cost a whopping $3,000, which mirrors the price tag of other premium systems such as Magic Leap's $2,295 AR goggles and Microsoft’s $3,500 Hololens 2.
As we reported in January, the Apple VR headset will reportedly only ship out less than 200,000 units per year, which hints that the Cupertino-based tech giant expects its head-mounted display to be a niche product that only a few can afford. Apple may also target business consumers as opposed to the general public.
What we want from Apple VR and mixed reality headset
Consumer-friendly pricing. Apple products are known for costing an arm and a leg. However, companies such as Facebook have a strong foothold in the mainstream VR market with competitive pricing seen in products like the $399 Oculus Quest. If Apple’s VR headset is financially inaccessible, it may struggle to win over consumers. Expecting an affordable VR headset from Apple is just wishful thinking, though. Perhaps VR will be friendlier on the pockets in the future.
Comfortable VR headsets. Many VR enthusiasts complain that most systems on the market are uncomfortable, clunky — and well — not very 2020. On the plus side, the rumors indicate that sleek headsets are on Apple’s top-priority list. Some VR gamers also complain about mental fatigue and nausea after using a VR headset, so hopefully, Apple can find a way to circumvent these issues.
A tetherless design. Being bound by wires while gaming in virtual reality is no fun. But fortunately, according to leaks, Apple’s vision for its VR headset is a wireless, standalone device.
Decent specs and features. We’d love to see specs that make a VR system awesome, including wide-ranging human movements translated into the VR world, high-resolution displays, higher refresh rates, top-notch tracking and more. The Apple VR headset will likely not disappoint, according to the leaks