By Bobby Carlton
For almost two decades, Apple has been experimenting with various technologies related to augmented and virtual reality. However, with the rise of these technologies, its interest in these new areas is starting to grow more serious and it's expected that the company will finally launch an AR/VR product sometime in 2023.
Of course, Apple is keeping details of their AR/VR/XR endeavors under tight wraps, but they also haven’t totally shied away from AR technology. After all, the company released ARKit and RealityKit to developers to help with the creation of AR experiences.
Rumors of Apple jumping into the AR/VR pool with hardware has been swirling for a few years now, but it seems we might finally see something in 2023!
Here are all the rumors we’ve heard so far! And please note, these are rumors!
APPLE VR/AR HEADSET
At least two different projects related to augmented reality (AR) are currently under development by Apple. One of these involves the release of an AR/VR headset in 2023. The other project involves the development of a pair of glasses that will be more similar to the current generation of AR devices like the Magic Leap 2.
Initially, it was believed that the company would launch their AR/VR headset in 2022. However, due to the various development issues that it still has to overcome, it's now expected that Apple’s AR/VR device could be released in 2023.
According to sources such as Mark Gurman of Bloomberg and Ming-Chi Kuo of Apple, the company's AR glasses could be released in 2024 or 2025.
The device, which will be a standalone device operating outside of an iPhone or Mac, but will be able to perform tasks similar to those performed by Apple devices. It will also have two chips that will allow it to handle various virtual reality functions.
The design of the device will be similar to that of other headsets on the market, such as the Meta Quest Pro. However, it will be lighter and feature a sleek form factor. Two high-resolution OLED displays will be able to provide a rich and immersive experience with up to 3,000 pixels per inch. Other rumors suggest that there might be an extra display on the sides of the headset for peripheral vision.
In addition to being able to track gestures and hand movements, Apple is also reportedly working on a dozen cameras that will be integrated into the headset. This will be one of the methods of control that the company is planning on using. It's also believed that the company will include a pair of wearable input devices.
The device will be able to detect various objects and gestures around the user through its 3D-sensing modules. These will be able to provide a variety of functions, such as voice control and skin detection. In addition, it will be able to play spatial audio.
The company is also working on an App Store for the device, which will be focused on gaming and streaming video. It will be running a new operating system called "xrOS." More on that later.
The price of the device has not been disclosed, but it's widely believed that it will be priced at $3,000. Due to the innovation of the technology, it's not surprising that the company would launch its AR/VR headset at a high price.
It’s important to note that Apple has traditionally marketed their devices more towards the consumer, and a $3,000 price tag compared to the Meta Quest Pro’s $1,500 puts it way beyond the consumer reach. So is Apple pushing their AR/VR headset for Enterprise? Some say yes, however the rumored features suggest this is a consumer product. Again, more on that later!
Apple's device will be able to support both virtual and augmented reality capabilities, which are referred to as "mixed reality". An example of AR devices currently on the market are things such as the Microsoft HoloLens and the Magic Leap 2.
The goal of mixed reality is to create new environments where digital and real objects can be interacted with and viewed together. In practice, it's not clear what type of experience Apple's device will be able to provide. However, we can expect to see a variety of standard iOS applications and features as part of Apple's xrOS that are designed to enhance the experience.
These experiences could be used for entertainment, social, day-to-day, the workforce, and as an enterprise solution.
The design of Apple's upcoming AR/VR headset is similar to that of other devices and would resemble current devices on the market such as the Meta Quest Pro, Pico 4, and HTC Vive headsets. Though in typical Apple fashion, the device will have its own unique look with several details about the device's design have been rumored.
According to some mock art by Ian Zelbo based on rumors, the device will feature a sleek and curved design that's attached to the user's face using a mesh material. It will also have swappable headbands made of materials similar to the Apple Watch band. A soft mesh across the brim will allow the user to wear the headset comfortably against their face. These will most likely also come in different sizes and can be swappable.
One of the rumored Apple headphones will reportedly feature spatial audio technology, similar to the features found in the AirPods Pro. It will also be able to respond to users' hand gestures and eye movements.
The device's design will reportedly block out light from entering the user's field of view. It's also believed that the device will have an outward-facing visor that can display graphics.
Rumors suggest that the company is reportedly working on reducing the final weight to around 100 to 200 grams to make the device lighter and more user friendly.
It's been rumored that the AR/VR headset will have multiple displays, and two of these will be 4K micro OLEDs. Sony is reportedly supplying the panels, and Apple may use some of its OLEDs from Samsung. Of course, Meta has also been focused on OLED displays for a much improved XR experience. Their new Quest Pro headsets use nonpatterned mirrors to create a single light source.
Unlike traditional OLED panels, which are built on a glass substrate, micro OLEDs are produced directly on to the chip. They're smaller and more power-efficient, and they can be used for various applications such as virtual reality and augmented reality. Compared to standard OLEDs, these micro OLEDs have a faster response time.
An external display for the AR/VR headset will reportedly be provided by LG Display. This type of display will not require the micro-OLED technology found in the dinner display. It will be a standard indicator that doesn't require special equipment.
In order to create a lightweight and thin device, Apple is reportedly using "Pancake" lenses. These are more expensive than the lenses used for other VR headsets. However, they will still result in a much thinner device.
Since the AR/VR headset will have a close fit to the user's face, it will not allow them to wear glasses. This means that users may opt to have prescription lenses inserted over the device's screens.
A personal note, I wear glasses and I would prefer prescription inserts over wearing my glasses in a headset.
The device will reportedly have over a dozen optical cameras that are capable of capturing various details, such as hand movements and mapping the user's environment. One of the main features of the AR/VR headset is reportedly the ability to create lifelike portraits.
The device will reportedly have eight camera modules, and some of these will be used for see-through experiences. Another six will be used for biometric features.
In addition to these, the device will reportedly have several eye-detecting cameras that will allow users to see other people moving around in front of or behind virtual objects. It will also be able to map the dimensions and surfaces of rooms with accuracy.
It's also rumored that Apple will add two downward-facing cameras to its device, which will be capable of capturing leg movement. This will allow users to track their leg movements accurately.
In addition to these, the device will also be capable of handling various input methods, such as hand gestures and eye-tracking.
An advanced eye-tracking system is reportedly designed to provide a more intuitive and seamless visual experience. It can also facilitate controls by moving one's eyes. In addition, the system will reportedly add support for iris recognition.
The device will reportedly have four 3D-sensing modules that can be used to detect hand gestures and nearby objects. It will also be capable of supporting Siri commands and monitoring expressions. Apple is working on multiple control methods, including a "thimble-like device to be worn on a person's finger."
The AR/VR headset will reportedly have an iris scanner, which will be able to read the pattern of the user's eye. This feature will allow users to use an iris scan for payment authentication.
The ability to scan an iris will be similar to Touch ID and Face ID on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It's also a feature that's not available on competing devices such as the Quest Pro from Meta.
Two Mac-level M2 processors are reportedly going to be included in the AR/VR headset, which will be able to provide users with unprecedented computing power. Apple will reportedly use the same chips that were used in the MacBook Air.
The main processor will reportedly be a high-end model, while the lower-end model will be used for the device's sensor-related functions. The AR/VR headset will not rely on either the Mac or iPhone for its processing power. It will additionally feature independent storage and power.
Apple has reportedly finished work on its AR/VR headset's system-on-chip (SoCs). These will be used for various tasks, such as wireless data transmission and compression. They do not have a neural engine, though, like some of Apple's other chips.
WHAT WILL THEY CALL IT?
Apple has reportedly registered the names "Reality One" and "Reality Pro" for the mixed reality headset that it is working on. These names are similar to the company's registered trademarks for the "Reality Processor." Given that, it's possible that Apple will use a reality-themed name for its upcoming device.
Okay, we mentioned Apple’s xrOS earlier in the article, so let's dive into what it is.
The company will reportedly call its mixed reality operating system, "xrOS" and it's believed that the name refers to the software's extended reality functionality, which will allow the device to support both virtual and augmented reality experiences.
When the software was in development, Apple reportedly was calling it "rOS" or "reality OS", but as the company prepares to launch their AR/VR device, it seems like they will use the less generic "xrOS" name.
The company is reportedly working on an App Store designed specifically for the AR/VR headset, which will focus on gaming and video conferencing. Bloomberg claims that it will be a multi-faceted digital environment that will allow users to consume media and communicate with one another. Apple is also reportedly planning on working with other media companies to create content that will be able to be viewed in VR, and a VR Facetime-ish experience with their Animojis technology and other Apple features.
When used with Facetiming, the device will reportedly be able to recognize and interpret facial expressions and features in real time, allowing users to experience a 3D version of their face. It's also believed that the company will integrate its SharePlay feature into the device. Rumos also suggest you'll be able to access Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade.
A recent rumor claimed that Apple was working on a new version of its Messages app that will allow users to interact with each other through virtual and augmented reality chat rooms.
From the sounds of it, this is very much a consumer device, but the price tag suggests that Enterprise is on their radar. Could we see two different xrOS App Store ecosystems?
The company's upcoming mixed reality headset is reportedly expected to support WiFi 6E, which is the latest version of the WiFi specification. It's believed that Apple is planning on using this technology to provide a high-end experience with wireless connectivity. WiFi 6E has various benefits, such as providing better coverage and reducing interference between devices.
WILL WE SEE THE DEVICE IN 2023?
According to Bloomberg, Apple has repeatedly pushed back the release of its AR/VR headset - again - due to various issues that it has to address. The company initially planned to launch the device in 2021, and then it was delayed until 2022.
It's not likely that Apple will be presenting the device at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference, as the company still has to address various issues related to its design and software. One of these is the overheating issue of the device.
The price of the device is believed to be around $3,000, which would make it significantly more expensive than an iPhone.
It's believed that Apple will initially only be able to sell one AR/VR headset per day in its retail stores. The company also reportedly told its suppliers that it expects to sell around seven to 10 million units during its first year of availability.
There you go! That's everything we know so far, at least what we think we know. Keep in mind that we've been down this path before in previous years with Apple.