Apple VR/AR headset — everything we know so far

apple mixed reality headset
(Image credit: Future)

The Apple VR and AR headset is one of those products that's perpetually rumored but never seems to materialize. The company hasn't officially announced the device, but we know the company has big plans for augmented reality. The VR/AR headset is the next step on that journey.

It's worth noting that the VR/AR headset is totally different from the rumored Apple Glasses. Those are said to be purely AR-focused and aren't likely to arrive anytime soon. Meanwhile, the VR/AR headset could be here as soon as 2023, and it's likely to compete with the Meta Quest 2, PSVR 2 and all the other best VR headsets.

We've seen several reports coming out regarding Apple VR/AR, including next-generation display technology and its potential price and release window. We even recently saw rumors about the display for the Apple VR/AR Headset 2, the theoretical successor to Apple's still unannounced mixed reality headset. 

Here's everything you need to know about the Apple VR and mixed reality headset.

Apple VR/AR headset news (updated November 10)

Apple VR and mixed-reality headset release date speculation

Rumors around the Apple VR/AR headset have been swirling with all manner of predictions. But the one that stands out and seems the most pertinent analyst and reliable Apple oracle Ming-Chi Kuo who has the Apple VR/AR headset tipped for a January 2023 launch and release, with a second generation (plus a cheaper edition) supposedly coming in 2025. Mark Gurman agrees on the headset coming in 2023, but doesn't specify a month.

Meanwhile, we've since heard that production of the AR/VR headset could start by March of 2023. That may mean a reveal later in the year than Kuo predicted, or perhaps Apple intends to show off the headset before starting pre-orders and sales a few months down the line, in order to drum up excitement and get developers working on experiences before consumers get to try the hardware.

However software issues may have pushed the physical release of the headset back even further. Ming-Chi Kuo is now predicting that we won't see the headset until sometime in late 2023.

In a Medium post (opens in new tab), exploring several aspects of the VR headset market, Kuo describes Apple as "a game-changer for the headset industry," and predicts that Cupertino's first headset will lead a new wave of products from others trying to emulate its ideas, and boost in demand for associated AR games and apps.

A Bloomberg (opens in new tab) report unearthed possible trademarks linked to Apple's VR/AR headset, including Reality One, Reality Pro and Reality Processor (opens in new tab). It doesn't mean that Apple will use these names, but it's fueling speculation that there could be more than one headset. 

Apple VR and mixed reality headset vs Apple Glass

Apple Glass

(Image credit: Martin Hajek/iDropnews)

According to reports, the Apple VR and mixed reality headset is designed to be a precursor to Apple Glass. The AR lenses are supposed to offer an "optical see-through AR experience," according to Ming-Chi Kuo

In other words, based on everything we've heard, Apple Glass is designed to look and act like an ordinary lightweight pair of glasses. We're talking about glasses that are able to project information, and presumably imagery, onto its lenses 

The Apple VR and mixed reality headset is expected to be like a typical VR headset, but one with a number of exterior cameras and sensors that unlock bonus functionality.

That way Apple's VR and mixed reality headset can offer body tracking, and incorporate real-world environments in a virtual space. Plus, the Apple VR headset could incorporate a see-through experience that can deliver a form of augmented reality. So, it's not quite like the Oculus Quest 2, which is VR-only. 

However Mark Gurman has claimed that the Apple headset will be designed for short trips into VR — rather than jumping on the 'metaverse' bandwagon like so many others. In fact Apple is said to have declared metaverse if "off limits". Users will be able to use the mixed reality headset for communication, content viewing and gaming, but it won't be a device you wear all day, or as a replacement for real life.

Still not sure what the difference between mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual reality actually is? We have an explainer that tells you exactly what mixed reality is and what Microsoft, Meta and Apple have planned for it.

Apple VR and mixed reality headset rumored price

Reports on the Apple VR and mixed reality headset price have been mixed. But rumors suggest a developer focus, so pricing may center around attracting programmers.

Tim Cook has spoken at length about how AR is Apple's end goal. The headset is reported to be the first stage in the company's wearable AR ambitions. The headset's main goal is reportedly to prepare developers for the launch of Apple Glass, and ensure the specs have app support for launch. Apple's main incentive is not to make money, and reports claim the headset's price will reflect that.

That being said, Mark Gurman has claimed the headset will be heavy on gaming, media consumption and communication, suggesting Apple is designing something with consumers in mind. Maybe this could mean a cheaper second-gen headset later. However, that doesn't necessarily mean the first-generation headset won't be expensive, or a primarily designed for developer use.

While Apple's VR and mixed reality headset is supposed to be expensive, reports are divided on how expensive it's set to be.

A report from The Information claims that Apple's VR headset will be as high as $3,000. Gaming VR headsets rarely cost more than $1,000, though the Microsoft Hololens 2 does cost a whopping $3,500. 

Mark Gurman claims that the headset could cost upwards of $2,000. That price tag is supposed to account for the headset's hardware, which could include the Apple M1 Pro chip, an extended development time and the usual increased markup applied to other Apple products.

However, Ming-Chi Kuo has now reported that the final price should be between $2,000 and $2,500. He also seemed to confirm the rumored launch window of January 2023.

In any case, the cost of entry is going to be high and certainly a lot higher than other stand-alone VR headsets. For example, the Oculus Quest 2 costs $300 by comparison.

Apple VR and mixed reality headset display rumors

The Information (opens in new tab)'s reported claims that the VR/AR headset will feature 12 tracking cameras that can feed information to two 8K displays in front of the user's eyes. On top of that, the headset will also reportedly feature LiDAR sensors. However, this report was contradicted by Display Supply Chain Consultants, or DSCC, which claims that Sony is making 4K 4000 x 4000 displays for Apple's headset with a 1.4-inch diagonal. It is important to know that in its comments DSCC did mention that LiDAR was still a possibility.

For those that don't know, LiDAR uses lasers to measure distance, which can gather the area of a space quickly and accurately. A device can use this info to better place objects in AR, and has already been used this way on high-end iPad Pro as well as the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

DSCC also suggests that Apple might cram in three displays total inside its headset. There could be the two Sony-made 4K displays mentioned above, as well as one larger lower resolution AMOLED display on the back. This, according to the report, would allow Apple to create a foveated display. 

A foveated display refers to the fovea that sits at the back of a person's eye, along the retina. The fovea helps with sharpening central vision. A foveated VR headset could use eye tracking to help focus an image on what the user is looking at while lowering the resolution around the periphery. This video by YouTube channel SweViver does an excellent job explaining fixed foveated rendering (FFR).

There is some credence to the rumors of Sony developing the display panels for the mixed reality Apple headset. Recent reports suggest that the Apple headset will use OLEDoS panels, which use silicon instead of glass substrates to create unbelievable resolutions. Sony, Samsung and LG are all working on OLEDoS panels, with Sony and LG rumored to provide displays for the first generation of the Apple VR/AR headset and Samsung and LG to provide displays for the second generation.

 

Apple VR and mixed reality headset rumored features

apple mixed-reality headset design

(Image credit: Future)

The main feature of the Apple headset is mixed reality. According to Mark Gurman, the headset will include external cameras which are currently being used to test features like hand-tracking and gesture control. Part of this includes the possibility of being able to type in the air with a virtual keyboard.

At least one report claims that Apple isn't focusing on games for its AR/VR headset. That seems like a curious decision, given how early adopters are often attracted to features like gaming.

Rumors suggest that the Apple VR/AR headset will not rely on sensors alone. Sources have told The Information that users will be able to wear a "thimble-like" device on their finger to help with hand tracking and other controls.

A lot of power is going to be needed to keep all this going, and Gurman's report claims that the headset will feature Apple's "most advanced and powerful chips." Apparently, the chip inside Apple's VR headset will be more powerful than the newly-launched M1 Mac chip. 

According to a later report from Gurman, the headset will come with the new M2 chip and 16GB of RAM. It may not be the most powerful chip in the Apple Silicon range, but it dopes offer a good balance of power and energy efficiency.

Speaking of specs, a newer report from Kuo has the headset tipped to get a brace or processors, suggesting Apple won't be scrimping on power. 

"The higher-end processor will have similar computing power as the M1 for Mac, whereas the lower-end processor will be in charge of sensor-related computing," Kuo predicts.

Similarly, The Information (opens in new tab) reports that there will be two processors on board the headset, with the main processor the equivalent of the M2 chip slated to come out later this year in devices like a new MacBook Air.

According to Kuo, all that hardware will also need a significant amount of power. To the point where the headset will apparently come with a 96W MacBook charger to keep everything powered on.

Not so long ago, Kuo also shared that the device could get hand gesture controls as well as object detection features, which could be enabled through "highly sensitive 3D sensing modules."

"The AR/MR headset can detect not only the position change of the user or other people’s hand and object in front of the user's eyes but also the dynamic detail change of the hand," he predicts. As an example, Kuo suggested when users change their hand from a clenched fist to an opened hand, the machine could track this movement and create an image of a balloon floating away as if released.

Apple's recent patent wins could also shed light on some other expected features, including finger gestures. Recent patent filings from Apple indicate that it wants to integrate wearables with its VR/AR mixed reality headset — and possibly Apple Glasses. These inventions would allow users to use wearables ranging from two Apple Watches to a VR glove to execute finger gestures. These gestures could allow users to do a range of tasks, from scrolling through pages to hanging up a phone call.

apple smart ring patent

(Image credit: Apple/USPTO)

A patent discovered by Apple Insider (opens in new tab) reveals that Apple has been working on some smart rings, which can be used to track finger and hand movements. This could be employed with the VR and mixed reality headset, to boost the capabilities of the external cameras.

The patent also mentions being able to detect objects the user is holding, including an Apple Pencil. That means the headset will be see what you want to do, and alter its functionality accordingly. So if you hold an Apple Pencil it sill know you want to hand write something, as oppose to typing. And so on

Per analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, he believes that Apple will use "3P pancake lenses" that will have a folded design to allow light to reflect back and forth between the display and lenses. This could allow for a headset design that's compact and lightweight.

Ming-Chi Kuo also claims that the headset will come with Wi-Fi 6E support, which would allow it to connect to a separate device and transfer large amounts of data with low latency. This means the headset could allow a separate device, like an iPhone or Mac, to do all the hard work and beam it to the headset without the need for a physical cable.

Not doing all the processing in the headset itself will also mean Apple can help keep the weight low and preserve battery life for much longer than it would have lasted otherwise.

On top of all these possibilities, a report from The Information claims that Apple will add iris scanning tech to the VR/AR headset. The idea is that the headset can authenticate the user as soon as they put it on, which will be beneficial for situations where multiple people share the same device. It may also be used to authenticate purchases, the same way Face ID and Touch ID are utilized on iOS devices.

Apple VR and mixed reality headset design

According to a report by The Information from early 2021, the outlet received design sketches of what Apple's mixed reality headset might look like. This is apparently based on early prototype work by Apple engineers and may not reflect the final product.

apple vr and mixed reality headset fan render side view

(Image credit: Ian Zelbo)

Concept artist Ian Zelbo also created some renders of a possible headset design, based on The Information's leak from earlier in the year. 

Regardless, with this being Apple, we'd expect the mixed reality headset to sport a bit of slick industrial design with a lot of user ergonomics in mind. 

For what it's worth, Ming-Chi Kou has claimed the Apple headset will weigh between 300 and 400 grams (a little less than a pound) when it debuts. A lighter version is in the works for a subsequent release, Kou adds.

Apple Glasses realityOS

A whole new device form factor requires a tweaked operating system, and it looks like that’s what Apple will be providing, with reference to “realityOS” in App Store upload logs by eagle-eyed developers

There's not much information on this potential software, but it would make sense for Apple to come up with a custom OS for it's VR and AR gadgets. We'd hazard a guess that such an operating system would have more in common with iOS than macOS. 

Apple VR and mixed reality headset: Will you want to buy it?

Current reports and rumors suggest that Apple's AR/VR mixed reality headset will have a professional and developer focus. The idea is to ensure developers have a real device so they can get to grips with designing apps for augmented reality, ahead of the eventual launch of the Apple Glasses AR specs.

We've read reports that suggest that Apple's AR/VR headset could cost as high as $3,000, whereas other reports suggest a device that's "several thousand dollars."

But with the Apple Glasses still reportedly several years away, time may change the appeal of the Apple headset. After all, the more time developers have with it, the more apps they can release, and the more interesting it will be to own. That's assuming the price tag doesn't continue to put people off. 

Granted, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has stated that Apple could be looking to launch a second-generation headset in 2024. He expects this headset to sell 10 million units, rivaling the Oculus Quest 2. Maybe this headset will have much larger mass-market appeal.

Apple VR and mixed reality headset wish list: What we want

Apple Mixed-Reality Headset

(Image credit: The Information)

Long-term comfort: The problem with most VR headsets is that they're not ideal for long-term use. Discomfort generally increases after about 30 minutes. Of course, the more comfortable the headset is from the start, the longer you'll be able to keep going.

If Apple can design the AirPods Pro in such a way that you can forget they're there, it can certainly ensure its mixed reality headset is as pro-comfort as possible.

Solid battery life: Currently, the battery life on standalone headsets isn't great. The Oculus Quest 2 only lasts two to three hours, depending on what you're doing. We want Apple's VR and mixed reality headset to offer at least this much battery life, but ideally more. 

A focus on fitness: With possible integration with Apple Fitness Plus and the Apple Watch, the Apple headset could be a game changer for fitness. You could use the device during workouts and see your progress as you follow along with personal trainers. 

Proper AR: If Apple is going to kick start its wearable AR efforts with a mixed-reality headset, we want to see some proper AR features. Users will always be aware that the headset is in place, but Apple should, at the very least, do everything it can to make sure that any see-through AR functionality is as realistic as possible. That means good image quality, no noticeable lag, and a good field of view. 

No gimmicks: If the mixed reality headset really is a developer device that's being released to the public, the least Apple can do is make sure there's a reason to have one. Don't release the headset for the sake of it, especially if it really is that expensive. Give people an actual reason to pick one up for themselves, beyond the logo. 

Tom Pritchard
Automotive Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.