Apple Mixed-Reality Headset: VR, AR, Resolution, and More

Apple Mixed-Reality Headset: VR, AR, Resolution, and More

In recent months, rumors about Apple working on a top-secret headset project have reached a fever pitch. But at the same time, the chatter has become increasingly convoluted — Apple is reportedly planning to use mixed reality (MR) rather than solely augmented reality (AR) or (VR), but how exactly will that work? What will the device look like? And what features will it have?

That is where this roundup comes in. We have combed through the rumors and reports to find all the latest key information, then combined it in one convenient location. Here is everything we know about Apple’s upcoming mixed-reality headset, including price, features, and more.

Price and release date

Numerous outlets, leakers, and reporters have suggested launch time frames for Apple’s mixed-reality headset, but a consensus has formed around one date: 2022. The details are scarce when it comes to the exact release month, but the fact that so many people with different sources have come to the same conclusion suggests it could be a good bet.

For instance, respected reporter Mark Gurman said in June 2020 that Apple could unveil the headset in 2021 and then release it a year later, based on a purported all-hands meeting of Apple’s headset development team. He then followed that up by claiming Apple will reveal the headset within “the next several months” at an in-person event in 2021, with a release date of 2022. Reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and news outlet The Information have both followed suit and predicted the same 2022 launch year. While the headset was not announced in 2021, there is still a possibility we could see it at least teased in 2022, then potentially make it onto shop shelves in 2023.

There are still hopes that an announcement could be on the horizon. A report from analysts at Morgan Stanley in mid-November 2021 pointed out that the Apple headset is mirroring the pattern taken by the Apple Watch shortly before its own reveal in 2014. Like the Watch, the headset has seen a notable increase in patents in recent months, including those for its hardware, input methods, and user interface. If the headset is indeed following the Apple Watch playbook, this could indicate it is nearly ready for prime time.

As for the price, The Information has offered details here, claiming it would cost $3,000. That would put it in the company of Microsoft’s $3,500 HoloLens 2, but with a price that high, it would likely be restricted to industry use. That seems a little out of character for Apple. However, a January 2022 report from Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC) also claimed the price tag would be “several thousand dollars” and that the high price would mean the first-generation model would be aimed at professionals and developers. So that high price might have some justification.

Kuo, however, has suggested a much lower price of $1,000. This puts the headset back into consumer territory (albeit at the top end) and is more in line with what we would expect from Apple: Expensive, but still considered mainstream and consumer-focused.

What’s in a name?

Apple VR Headset Concept by Antonio De Rosa
Apple VR Headset Concept Antonio De Rosa

Ever since the first Apple headset rumors started to leak onto the internet, people have been speculating about what the device might be called. Some early contenders have come and gone, but we’re still not particularly close to an answer. That said, there are some sound possibilities worth considering.

The first one — and the one you are most likely to see when reading up on the headset — is Apple Glass. This was mooted by leaker Jon Prosser in a YouTube video from mid-2020 after he claimed to have seen a prototype of the device. However, this name was shot down by reporter Mark Gurman, who expressed his doubt that Apple would name a product after the flop that was the Google Glass. Fair point.

More recently, Gurman has proposed a number of options Apple might go with:

  • Apple Vision: Gurman believes this is the most likely candidate because it “sounds futuristic, doesn’t reference any particular technology or feature, has an optimistic vibe, and doesn’t box the product into anything other than being a new visual medium.”
  • Apple Reality: This is another strong contender, in Gurman’s opinion, because it references the rOS (“Reality OS”) operating system said to run the headset, plus it is “understandable and broad.” As well as that, it leaves open the possibility Apple will extend the name to its future augmented reality glasses by calling the mixed-reality headset “Apple Reality” and the specs “Apple Reality Glasses.”
  • Apple Sight or Apple iSight: This is a potential throwback to the Apple iSight webcam. These days, though, Apple seems to be moving away from the “i” preface for new products, so it’s a less-likely prospect.
  • Apple Lens: Gurman considers this unlikely because it is close to the Microsoft HoloLens name and it doesn’t quite describe the headset properly, since it will be comprised of display panels instead of see-through lenses.
  • Apple Goggles: This is a bit of a fun name, perhaps reminiscent of products like the iPod Shuffle. Still, it’s thought to be unlikely by Gurman due to the association with swimming and protective goggles.
  • Apple AR, Apple VR, Apple XR, Apple MR, or Apple SR: Gurman believes acronym-based names like this are the least probable possibilities because they “pigeonhole” the headset into something that might soon become outdated. As well as that, acronyms aren’t very accessible for mainstream users who might not know what they stand for. And as the final nail in the coffin, the XR name might lead to confusion with the iPhone XR.

It’s also possible that the reason we haven’t heard much in the way of names before now is that Apple simply hasn’t settled on anything yet. With the headset expected to be unveiled either late this year or in 2023, it probably won’t be too long before we have a better idea of the name.

A wraparound design and tons of cameras

What can you expect Apple’s mixed-reality headset to look like? Well, seeing as it combines AR and VR, the chances are it will be a full wraparound set to keep you immersed while using its virtual reality features. Anything that lets you see your surroundings — like Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 or the Magic Leap 1 — would take you out of the virtual world you are experiencing. Rumors also suggest Apple’s device will be totally wireless to give you the freedom to move without being yanked back by cables — another immersion breaker.

Then there is the augmented reality side. To make this happen, the headset is going to require cameras to capture the outside world and feed it back to you. According to The Information, there will be up to a dozen cameras and lidar sensors mounted on the device, the latter of which Apple has already incorporated into devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro to help with augmented reality processing.

Kuo, however, contends there will be 15 cameras — eight for AR, one for environmental detection, and six for “innovative biometrics.” Kuo backed this up with a further report in April that reiterated the claim of 15 cameras. It is possible both versions exist as prototypes, with Apple to decide which to settle on in the future. Whichever claim ends up being correct, it is evident Apple is taking the camera situation on its headset seriously.

Light as a feather

Apple's rumored virtual reality headset.

What about the actual body of the device? This is an interesting one, as it could be a real differentiator — and advantage — for Apple. A report from Kuo in March 2021 claimed the entire headset could weigh as little as 150 grams (0.33 pounds), which is about half the weight of many rival devices. The $1,000 Valve Index VR headset would weigh more than five times what Apple’s headset weighs if Kuo is correct. Aiding that low-bulk goal would be the use of lightweight fabric instead of heavy plastic in the frame.

The report from The Information also contained an interesting tidbit on the headset’s body: It could use straps that look awfully like those on the Apple Watch Sport Band. It is not the first time we have seen one Apple device take design cues from another — the AirPods Max headphones borrow the HomePod Mini’s fabric mesh and the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown, for example.

An 8K feast for your eyes

Apple VR headset patent drawing.

It is not just the exterior of Apple’s headset that sounds promising, as the interior could come with some eye-opening features, too — quite literally in the case of the display resolution. It is rumored to be a whopping 8K per eye, giving an unprecedented level of detail. For comparison, the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite comes with a 1440 x 1700 resolution per eye.

Alternatively, a January 2022 report from industry analysts Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC) goes against that idea, claiming that the front-facing lenses could have a 4,000 x 4,000 resolution. The report adds other enticing details, including that the front panels will be MicroLED displays, while Apple will add a third panel for peripheral vision. This will be an AMOLED display and run at a lower resolution than the MicroLED screens, which could help create an immersive, all-encompassing experience that keeps your peripheral vision slightly blurred to help you focus on what’s ahead of you.

Apple is said to be gunning for high-quality visuals in other ways, with Kuo alleging that the headset might come with iris recognition based on the tech his sources tell him is in the device (such as the cameras used for “innovative biometrics” mentioned earlier). Iris recognition could be used to authenticate you for Apple Pay, says Kuo, or to unlock your accounts, enabling you to perform these tasks without having to take off the headset to enter a password on your iPhone.

Powered by an Apple Silicon chip

Apple M1 Pro logo.

Going back to those cameras, they could allow for eye- and hand-tracking features. Apple has already patented ideas for these control methods in the past, both for the Mac and for a mixed-reality headset. Do not be surprised if this tech shows up in Apple’s MR headset.

One thing we have not seen much news on is the refresh rate and field of view that will be used in the headset’s displays. The refresh rate will need to be high enough that lag and motion sickness are kept to an absolute minimum, and rival headsets typically aim for 90Hz or higher. We will have to wait and see what Apple opts for here.

Powering all this tech would be a custom-designed Apple Silicon chip, said to be one of Apple’s “most advanced and powerful” processors that could potentially beat the M1 chip found in the MacBook Pro, according to Mark Gurman. Apple’s ARM-based chip architecture is incredibly efficient — so much so that the M1 MacBook Air does not even need a fan — which makes it ideal for a compact device like a mixed-reality headset, where keeping cool is essential (for both you and the chip). In fact, Gurman has also claimed the headset itself might not need a fan either.

There is another possibility raised by Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo: That the headset will actually be powered by two chips, not just one. One would be made on a 4-nanometer process and another on a 5-nanometer process, and Kuo says the former would offer the main computing power, while the latter would manage the device’s sensors. The combined power output would require one of Apple’s 96W adapters, Kuo believes — the same adapter as the one that juices up the MacBook Pro, which could be a potential indicator of the headset’s power.

The idea of two chips powering the headset was backed up by reporter Mark Gurman in a January newsletter, where he claimed one of the two chips would be “on par with the M1 Pro in the MacBook Pro.” With both Kuo and Gurman on board, the idea of an Apple headset wielding two beefy chips seems to be gaining ground.

Kuo has also claimed that the headset will boast Wi-Fi 6E rather than the Wi-Fi 6 found in the current iPhone 13 lineup. This opens up a new 6GHz band, granting you lower latency and faster data rates. Considering the demanding nature of mixed-reality content, we think this claim makes a lot of sense.

Apple mixed-reality headset: Our wish list

Apple VR Headset Concept by Antonio De Rosa
Antonio De Rosa

It already looks like Apple is outfitting its headset with a ton of great features, but there are still a few extras we would love to see. At the top of the list is great battery life — after all, what is the point of having an excellent device to play with if it dies after a few minutes? Fortunately, the processor choice spells good news in this department, as Apple’s custom chip has led to incredible battery life in its MacBooks. That might be countered by the super-high resolution the headset is apparently going to use, but we have our fingers crossed.

The word is that Apple is developing a special operating system dubbed rOS (realityOS?) that will drive the headset. Apps and games will need to run on this system, but we are hoping that, due to the common Apple Silicon architecture in both the headset and Apple’s other devices, some degree of cross-compatibility will be available.

For example, it would be great if the headset can recognize if you are playing a game on your Apple TV or your Mac, for example, and then mirror the content onto the headset with added mixed-reality goodness (provided the game is VR-compatible, of course). It would be a shame if Apple limits the headset to only work with rOS-compatible games and apps, as developers might be put off if they must build apps from scratch for the new operating system.

One final request concerns the headset’s control method. We do not know whether the device will come with handheld controllers or will rely entirely on gestures. If it is the former, one thing Apple really needs to incorporate is haptic feedback. This is already included to great effect in every MacBook and the Apple Watch, so Apple knows how to make the tech work. Gentle taps that are built into apps and games would be a great addition that does not break immersion.

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