A new report from Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman says Apple’s first virtual reality headset will be the precursor to the company’s more ambitious augmented reality product.
As a mostly virtual reality device, it will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating. AR functionality, the ability to overlay images and information over a view of the real world, will be more limited. Apple has planned to launch the product as soon as 2022, going up against Facebook Inc.’s Oculus, Sony Corp.’s PlayStation VR and headsets from HTC Corp., the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private plans.
The report says the device has hit “several development hurdles” and the company has “conservative” sales expectations. The first version of the high-end, pricey device is being released to prepare outside developers and consumers for more mainstream AR glasses further down the line.
The report indicates the first headset will be much more expensive than other headsets of this type, which usually cost from $300 to $900. Some Apple insiders believe the company may sell as little as one headset per day per retail store. Considering Apple has around 500 retail stores, that would put expected annual sales at just over 180,000 units, in addition to those sold through other channels.
Gurman says his sources tell him that Apple’s headset will boast much higher-resolution displays than those found in current VR headsets, and will be powered by chips much more powerful than even its latest M1 Apple Silicon-based processors found in new Macs.
The headset, codenamed N301, is said to be cooled by a fan and is in a late prototype stage and hasn’t yet been finalized, indicating things could still change before the headset hits store shelves. The VR headset project could still be totally scrapped.
The device’s powerful processors and cooling fan initially resulted in a device that was too large and heavy. Apple then redesigned the device to bring the headset closer to the face, shrinking the size of the item. Unfortunately, this means users will not be able to wear glasses while using the headset, so Apple has designed a system to include custom prescription lenses in the headset over the VR screens. Apple is also said to be working on how it might implement optical prescriptions at the point of sale, both online and in retail stores.
Gurman’s sources say that Apple’s AR glasses, codenamed N421, are in an even earlier development stage and release is still “several years away.” Apple had planned to release them as early as 2023, although the release date will likely be delayed.
Current Apple AR prototypes are said to resemble high-end sunglasses, sporting thick frames that contain the glasses’ battery and chips.
Former Apple chief designer Jony Ive is said to have preferred the concept of the “N421” glasses over the idea of a full headset. Ive, who has since left the company, wanted a headset with technology embedded in the device.
As a result, the headset will work as a standalone experience, says Gurman, and prototypes of the headset include external cameras to enable some AR features. Apple is said to be testing using the cameras for hand-tracking and is also working on a feature that will allow a user to type virtually in the air to input text.