Stories & rumours have building over the past few months about Apple’s much anticipated headset – but how close are we really to it becoming a reality?
A long time coming
Apple has been working on their AR/VR headset for nearly twenty years now, but of recent, the development program has been ramped up. Does that mean we are finally getting nearer to the AR/VR headsets release?
The latest information suggests that when the project does eventually ship, that it will be a two-pronged strategy. First will be the AR/VR headset, and then, within a few years, smart glasses should follow.
Based on patent filings, we know that Apple has been ploughing time, and energy in to this project for many years at this point. As the popularity of augmented, and virtual reality continues to explode, the total number in the responsible team, has grown – from hundreds to thousands.
Where the AR/VR team once had to compete for manpower, they are now the priority. The team is constantly exploring the emerging technologies in the AR/VR space, that they can utilise, and perfect.
When the headset does come to market, it will be the first, new, product category from Apple since the Apple Watch in 2015.
Display & camera latest
The AR/VR headset will look similar to the image above. We know that prototypes were shown to the board last summer, which suggests that we are nearing release.
Weight continues to be a focus, to ensure that the headset is as comfortable as possible, for long periods of use. The viewing experience will be highly immersive, with two OLED internal, 4K Sony displays. This will form an overall 8K experience. There will be displays to the side, as well, making sure to gather in your peripheral vision.
The external display, sourced from LG, will be a simpler, indicator display that does not require the higher-quality micro-OLED technology used for the inner displays.
There will be dozens of cameras to track facial movements, hand, and leg movements, and possibly an input device, similar to a thimble, further refining the hand/eye tracking and co-ordination. The headset will feature both short-and long-range LiDAR scanners to scan surfaces and distances in three dimensions.
The body of the glasses will use largely carbon fibre, and aluminium, again keeping an eye on weight.
The Information, who are only one of the select few to have actually seen a development pair of Apple’s AR/VR headset, gave us further details about the lens set-up.
The lenses will be auto-adjusting, and are meant to align the wearer’s pupils with the headset displays, so they can have the largest possible field of vision. People with glasses are catered for too, and will reportedly be able to have custom-made, prescription lenses that clip to the headset via magnets. The lenses will be adjusted via a small, motor.
To help quickly switch between the virtual, and real worlds, Apple is working on the idea of developing a Digital Crown type of button, placed to one side of the headset, but it will not be haptic enabled.
Further proof that this seems to be the direction that Apple are taking, is found in the fact that Apple are known to be using ‘pancake lenses’. This lens technology is far pricier than the Frensal option, but is far lighter, and thinner.
The lens will also include an iris scanner that can read the pattern of the user’s eye. This will take care of secure password authentication, and payments that can be made, within the AR/VR experience.
Up to two users will be able to use a single pair of the AR/VR headset, using the iris scanning to log in to their user account.
Power & audio
Depending upon when the AR/VR headset finally makes its debut, will decide whether it ships with an M2 or M3 chip inside. Latest reports are saying that the headset will use two M2 chips, lifted directly from the MacBook Air, to adopt a 96W power adapter to charge the headset due to the powerful chips.
One of those processors will be responsible for the high-end requirements, whilst the other will be dedicated to the sensor-related aspects of the device. For the more powerful chip, it could possibly feature the 3-nanometer chip currently in development by TSMC. The headset will be a stand-alone device, and in no way reliant on an iPhone or Mac for any power or storage.
The location of the battery has been a moveable feast, but now, it would seem that the battery will be worn on the users’ waist, and connected to the headset via cable – a design once favoured by Sir Jony Ive.
The headset will utilise the H2 chip, and audio will come via AirPods Pro. Whether they will be included with the headset at point of purchase, has not yet become clear. We did even hear that some kind of audio device will be placed in the changeable, lightweight headband, to enhance the spatial audio effects.
The headset will support Wi-Fi 6E, which is the latest specification.
The use of Wi-Fi 6E is to provide a high-end, immersive experience with solid wireless connectivity. Wi-Fi 6E has all the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 but adds 6GHz spectrum in addition to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands for increased bandwidth and less interference between devices.
Whilst gaming will clearly be an important part of the AR/VR headset experience, it is not expected that a dedicated controller will ship with the headset. This would suggest that Apple’s focus is far wider than, purely, gaming.
The board are, however, very invested in the videoconferencing possibilities of the headset. High-def avatars are in development, that will accurately depict facial expressions, and body movements. Software has been created that will enable users to drag maps from a Mac’s screen, and then use it as a 3D model in the AR/VR world.
In December, the name of the headset’s operating software was changed from realityOS to xrOS. Bloomberg has reported that the headset hardware may also have the same name. The change to xr, which stands for Extended Reality, signals that the headset will almost certainly include both AR and VR capabilities.
The second part of the release strategy, will be the glasses.
Said to look very similar to regular glasses, the lenses will feature displays that will use gestures by way of interaction. The glasses will ship without a prescription, at a possible starting price of $499, with prescription lenses available at an additional cost.
The Apple Glasses will be more of an everyday wearable product, rather than the larger, gaming styled headset.
As of last year, the headset was already in the assembly phase at the Taiwanese manufacturer Pegatron. The prototype has so far passed stages for the engineering validation test, which checks if it could be mass-produced.
Last month, Ming-Chi Kuo tweeted that mass shipment of the Apple headset could be delayed to the second half of this year, because of software-related issues.
He predicted that the company will likely ship less than 500,000 headsets this year due to the product shipment being delayed. The headset is expected to be priced around $3,000, people close to the project have told The Information. If that turns out to be the case, it will mean the Apple AR/VR headset would be double the price of Meta’s first AR/VR headset – the Quest Pro.
So, if the AR/VR headset does ship in 2023, will you be at the front of the queue? What are you hoping from Apple’s first headset, or are the glasses of more interest to you?
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