Apple’s board of directors has reportedly been shown a mixed-reality headset, indicating its next product launch could happen soon, according to Bloomberg.
The headset is comprised of virtual and augmented reality functionality and would be the company’s first new significant product category since the introduction of the Apple Watch in 2015. Apple has also accelerated the development of its reality operating system (rOS), the software that will run on the headset, suggesting that the headset could launch within the next several months.
Apple aims to roll out the headset as early as the end of 2022 or sometime next year, with a consumer release planned for 2023.
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The virtual reality headset is expected to have exterior cameras to stream images to high-resolution displays within the interior using a technique called “pass-through” augmented reality. It also features advanced processors similar to the ones used in the latest Macs, along with ultra-high-resolution screens.
Bloomberg said that while the first model will feature both VR and AR, Apple is also developing stand-alone AR glasses, codenamed N421, that will be released later this decade. AR overlays digital information and images on top of the real world.
The current device is codenamed N301 and has reportedly been in development since around 2015.
The team developing the device has run into several snafus along the way, such as finding applications and content that would have broad appeal, according to Bloomberg. Some of the technical challenges have included overheating and refining the device’s onboard cameras, Bloomberg said.
The company is also working to incorporate AR versions of its main iPhone apps for the headset, along with new apps that will handle the ability to stream immersive content and hold virtual meetings, Bloomberg said.
No initial pricing information has been revealed, although some reports estimate the headset will have a price tag of about $3,000.
Apple’s former chief designer, Jony Ive, reportedly disagreed with the decision to release a virtual reality headset, preferring the idea of augmented-reality glasses instead. Ive, who left the company in 2019, also reportedly nixed a plan for a standalone headset and one that could be wirelessly paired with a processing hub in a user’s home, according to Bloomberg.
The mixed-reality headset will inevitably face competition from other tech giants, including Meta, Sony and Microsoft when it ultimately launches. Earlier this month, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg previewed the company’s “Project Cambria” VR headset, which is similar to Apple’s device and will feature pass-through AR. It will cost over $800, the company said.
Google is also working to develop stand-alone AR glasses.
The market for AR and VR headsets increased 92% last year to over 11 million units, according to IDC. Meta’s Quest 2 headset is currently the market leader, with about 78% of sales in 2021. As Meta moves deeper into the metaverse, the company lost $10 billion in 2021 alone.
Bloomberg said Apple’s entrance into the market for mixed reality headsets would likely expand industry sales over time.
Apple has never confirmed that it is developing a headset, but its Technology Design Group division, which works on VR and AR technology, has hired about 2,000 workers. So far, Apple has released ARkit software for the iPhones that allows apps to overlay digital images through the device’s camera.
The company is holding its annual WWDC developer’s conference virtually in June, with a keynote presentation that typically includes announcements about new products. Apple also holds launch events in the fall for new iPhones.
Apple has declined to comment on the mixed-reality headset, Bloomberg said.
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