It’s looking more and more like Apple’s next big thing won’t be something that fits in your pocket or a bag. Rather it could be another wearable device. Analysts Ming Chi-Kuo said in 2021 that Apple’s “goal is to replace the iPhone with AR in 10 years.” Here’s everything we know so far about Apple’s rumored mixed-reality headset.
Apple AR/VR headset: Latest rumors
January 3, 2023:The Information has an article purporting to reveal several new technical details about Apple’s device, including a waist-mounted battery pack, digital crown, how it works with AirPods, and much more.
December 1, 2022: In another scoop for Bloomberg, Mark Gurman reports that the operating system for Apple’s AR/VR project has been renamed from “realityOS” to “xrOS,” and that the heads of many of Apple’s internal apps are involved in the project.
September 25, 2022: Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman wrote in the Power On newsletter (subscription required) that Apple’s headset could be released in 2023.
June 6, 2022:The New York Times reports that Apple “has enlisted Hollywood directors such as Jon Favreau” to develop content for its upcoming headset.
Apple AR/VR headset: Release date
The latest rumors from primarily from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who reports that the operating system (xrOS) and other software developemtn for the headset is now in high gear with a release date aimed for 2023.
Apple AR/VR headset: Design
While the ultimate goal of Apple’s AR project is to produce a pair of fashionable smart glasses, the first version will reportedly be much bigger than that, weighing between 300-400 grams, according to Ming-Chi Kuo. According to reports, the first-generation Apple headset will be an Oculus-style headset with a knit mesh-wrapped body similar to the AirPods Max. It could look something like a sleeker version of Google’s Daydream headset, which also had a soft fabric body. A patent application for a “head-mounted display unit” also detailed several areas of adjustment, meaning comfort will be an area of focus. Supposedly the device is made of aluminum, glass, and carbon fiber to minimize weight.
However, we don’t know much else about the design of Apple’s AR device. While Jon Prosser reported that Apple is working on a prototype pair of AR glasses, more recent rumors suggest that a bona fide pair of glasses is likely still years away from production. In January, Ming-Chi Kuo reported that Apple will be using “pancake” lenses to keep the weight and bulk down. The current design is said to resemble high-tech ski goggles.
While the rumors say that Apple experimented with a battery integrated into the headband like the Meta Quest Pro, it eventually settled on an external battery you would clip to your waist or put in a pocket, connected to the headset with a magnetically-attached (think Magsafe on MacBooks) power cable. One charge is said to last only a couple hours, but you can swap battery packs to use the device longer.
The New York Times reported in June that the headset “looks like a pair of ski goggles.” The Information says a small digital crown-like wheel on the side will let users seamless switch between fully virtual (VR) and seeing their surroundings (AR).
Apple AR/VR headset: Audio
According to a report by The Information, the latency for most wireless earbuds or headphones is too high for its purposes, so users will have to use one of two solutions. One is a headband with integrated speakers (much like that on the Meta Quest Pro), the other is to use recent AirPods models, which can enter an “ultra-low latency” mode when connected to the headset. The headset apparently contains the H2 processors (found in the 2nd-gen AirPods Pro).
Apple AR/VR headset: Displays
As a mixed-reality device, Apple’s glasses are rumored to handle both virtual and augmented reality via a pair of high-resolution OLED 4K screens made by Sony, including eye-tracking technology. The headset will reportedly feature more than a dozen cameras and sensors, according to The Information, which will project a real-world view onto the screens as if you were looking through clear glass. It will presumably use either OLED or mini LED and incorporate Apple’s Ceramic Shield coating as well.
In January, Display Supply Chain Consultants reported that the headset will have “three display modules” comprised of two Micro OLED displays and one AMOLED panel. The AMOLED display is apparently a low-refresh display that faces outward, to show other people your facial expression and reduce the awkwardness of interacting with people wearing the headset.
Small internal motors are said to automatically adjust the lenses and displays to match the users’s IPD (inter-pupillary distance, which is how far apart your eyes are), giving a full field of view of 120 degrees.
Apple AR/VR headset: Processor and specs
According to Kuo (via Macrumors), Apple’s AR headset will have two processors, with the higher-end processor having “similar computing power as the M1 for Mac” and the secondary chip responsible for “sensor-related computing.” The sounds like a lot of processing power for a headset, but if the headset needs to power a pair of 4K displays, it will need a hefty chip. Reports also say that it will need to be tethered to an iPhone, much like the original Apple Watch.
Kuo also reported that the headset will support Wi-Fi 6E, which is also rumored to come to the iPhone 14. It will also presumably have at least 8GB of RAM and a 256GB hard drive. We don’t know anything yet about the battery life, but Kuo says improving battery life will be a focus of the second-generation model. Kuo reports that the headset will come with the same 96W power adapter as the MacBook Pro, which suggests it will have a big battery.
The Information says the device is powered by a main SoC with CPU, GPU, RAM, and storage, along with a secondary custom image signal processor that stitches together all the inputs from all the cameras into a single representation of the outside world, and it communicates with the SoC via a custom ultra-low-latency streaming codec developed by Apple.
The headset is said too employ both short-range and long-range LiDAR to develop a 3D map of your surroundings.
Apple AR/VR headset: Apps and functionality
As a mixed-reality device, Apple’s headset will also be able to handle both AR and VR applications, which opens the headset up to a variety of apps. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman also said that gaming could have “a strong focus” on the platform as well as “media consumption.” He expects Apple will work closely with developers and media partners to create content that can be watched in VR on the device. Apple will likely lean into VR content with its own TV+ service as well.
Apple will also surely have apps dedicated to AR-type things, such as the Measure app and things like the tool that lets you see a 3D render of Apple products before you buy it. In a December report, Gurman additionally said the iPhone’s Animojis and VR FaceTime could be positioned as “the new-age Zoom.”
The headset is expected to come with new versions of core apps like Messages and Maps, and reports claim that Apple recently enlisted the head of engineering for its iWork productivity apps, Notes app, and Apple News to work on the headset.
We’re told that we can expect a software development kit and App Store for third-party applications as well.
The New York Times reported in June that Apple “has enlisted Hollywood directors such as Jon Favreau” to develop content for its upcoming headset. The report said Favreau is “working to bring (Prehistoric Planet’s) dinosaurs to life on the headset.”
Apple AR/VR headset: Price
As far as pricing, rumors suggest that the first iteration could be an extremely expensive device, possibly costing several thousand dollars. In December, a Display Supply Chain Consultants report noted that volume estimates for the AR headset’s displays “look low for next year,” which likely indicates a high price tag (and low sales). With a price tag that’s out of reach for most people, the AR headset would mainly be a proof of concept device for diehards and developers, but no less exciting to the future of Apple wearables.