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05 January 2023

New Information Leak Says Apple’s Mixed Reality Headset Will Use a Digital Crown, LiDAR, and Waist-Mounted Battery and Be Released in 2023

Apple

By Bobby Carlton

Apple’s possible XR headset will let you change realities through a digital crown and will have realistic avatar XR video calls.

Apple mixed reality headset rumors are swelling with a lot of experts convinced that we will finally see a mixed-reality device from the tech giants sometime in 2023. Of course it makes sense that there is a lot of talk considering CES – the biggest conference focused on new technology – is underway in Las Vegas and every tech expert is there talking about the latest rumors they’ve heard from their secret sources.

Although Apple has not officially announced any product, it is widely expected that the company will finally unveil a mixed-reality headset that will feature a variety of new features. In typical Apple fashion, they wouldn’t do it at CES. If they had a product launch, Apple would hold its own specific event for that. As of right now, Apple’s next event is WWDC which is scheduled for June 7, 2023.

Apple
Apple CEO, Tim Cook
Image from Apple

Despite the overabundance of new rumors all over social media, it’s still hard to really pinpoint what Tim Cook and Apple will actually release. However a recent report published in The Information gives us a much clearer picture of the rumored headset thanks to an inside source knowledgeable about Apple’s upcoming XR headset.

It was a lot of information and thankfully the folks over at Macrumors went through the detailed article and pulled all of the good details for us.

Reported Apple MR Specs

  • Resolution: Dual Micro OLED displays at 4K resolution (per eye)
  • FOV: 120-degrees, similar to Valve Index
  • Chipset: Two 5nm chips. Includes a main SoC (CPU, GPU, and memory) and a dedicated image signal processor (ISP). Chips communicate via a custom streaming codec to combat latency.
  • Battery: Waist-mounted battery, connected via MagSafe-like power cable to the headset’s headband. Two-hour max battery life, although hotswappable for longer sessions.
  • Passthrough: ISP chip contains custom high-bandwidth memory made by SK Hynix, providing low latency color passthrough
  • Audio: H2 chip, providing ultra-low latency connection with the second-generation AirPods Pro and future AirPods models. No 3.5mm and possibly no support for non-AirPod BT headphones.
  • Controller: Apple is said to favor hand-tracking and voice recognition to control the headset, but it has tested a “wand” and a “finger thimble” as alternative control input methods.
  • Prescription Lenses: Magnetically attachable custom prescription lenses for glasses-wearers.
  • IPD Adjustment: Automatic, motorized adjustment to match the wearer’s interpupillary distance.
  • Eye Tracking: At least one camera per-eye for things like avatar presence and foveated rendering
  • Face & Body Tracking: More than a dozen cameras and sensors capture both facial expressions and body movements, including the user’s legs.
  • Room Tracking: Both short- and long-range LiDAR scanners to map surfaces and distances in three dimensions.
  • App Compatibility: Said to have the ability to run existing iOS apps in 2D.

Design Rumors

  • Outer Shell: Aluminum, glass, and carbon fiber to reduce its size and weight. Cameras are largely concealed for aesthetic reasons.
  • Presence Displays: Outward-facing display can show user’s facial expressions and also presumably eye movements. Said to be an always-on display similar in latency and power draw of Apple Watch or iPhone 14 Pro.
  • Dedicated Passthrough Switch: Digital Crown-like dial on its right side to switch between VR and passthrough.
  • Headstrap: Various available, including consumer-focused headstrap similar in material to Apple Watch sport bands with built-in speakers. Unspecified, but different headstrap targeted at developers.

As for price, it’s being reported that Apple could be selling its MR headset at a starting price of around $3,000 depending on its model. 

According to the internal source, the device will draw power from its waist-mounted battery. You’ll also be able to switch out batteries with ease and without powering down the device thanks to the headset having a small backup battery built into it. This feature was reportedly conceptualized by Jony Ive, Apple’s former chief designer.

Apple

The device is reportedly built with two processors, one of which is a main system-on-a-chip (SoC) and one for video processing. Something very similar to Qualcomm’s AR2 Gen 1 chip.

It is also rumored that the device will have an ISP that will de-warp the distorted image from the cameras into the headset, which is very important for mixed-reality applications. The chip is reportedly built using a custom-made memory from SK Hynix.

The device’s headband is reportedly made from a material similar to the Apple Watch’s sports bands, but its integrated speakers can be a privacy issue. Developers can use a different type of headband that’s designed to work with a Mac.

What is really interesting is that it’s being reported that Apple’s MR headset will have a digital crown, similar to the Apple Watch, and is supposed to allow users to quickly switch between the physical and virtual worlds with a turn of the dial.

It’s believed that the device’s field of view is 120 degrees, which is wider than that of Meta Quest Pro and other open AR headsets. Through an integrated motor, the headset’s lens distance can be adjusted automatically.

According to the report by The Information, the upcoming headset will have a display that shows the user’s facial expressions. This feature is said to help reduce the isolation that users feel when they put on the device. The report also claims that the screen will consume little power and provide a low refresh rate, which is similar to what the Apple Watch offers.

It’s also reported that Apple will utilize a 4K display with a micro OLED center for the user’s eye. This will be accompanied by an LG display for the peripherals. Eye tracking will reportedly be integrated, which will help reduce the device’s power consumption.

A big first for any type of MR headset is that the headset will feature multiple cameras that can detect the user’s legs. In addition, it will reportedly have two LIDAR scanners.

Besides education, the report claims that the headset will feature XR video conferencing, which will allow users to interact with each other using realistic avatars. An AI process will reportedly be used to estimate the jaw and eyebrow movements of the user’s avatar.

Apple also wants to give you the ability to transition between the Mac screen and the XR display. For example, if you pull the 2D Maps app from the Mac screen, it can show a 3D model of a city in XR mode.

Again, Apple hasn’t made any official announcements. However, this information does come from a very reliable source, and if this is all true Apple could be setting the bar very high for mixed-reality headsets.

HTC Vive XR Elite
Image by HTC

But again, these are all rumors and we already are seeing devices such as Magic Leap, the Meta Quest Pro, and the HTC Vive XR Elite (which is being launched during CES) available to consumers now. Apple is okay with playing the long-game when it comes to certain technology, but they can’t wait too long. XR technology is an incredibly fast race, and you can’t win the race if you’re not in it. 

So maybe Apple will finally jump into the AR/VR headset race in 2023.