Apple VR headset could use your fingers as 3D controllers — here’s how

apple mixed reality headset gesture control patent
(Image credit: Future)

Speculation about the Apple VR and mixed reality headset continues to ramp up. The latest reveal provides more evidence that the headset will skip controllers in favor of body (and finger) tracking.

That’s what’s detailed in a new patent discovered by Patently Apple. In it we see the Apple VR headset use external cameras and sensors to generate a 3D model of the user’s fingertips to sense when they’re interacting with real-world objects.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve already heard rumours about the Apple VR headset employing this sort of system. An extensive Bloomberg report broke the news on that particular feature, while a separate report from The Information claimed that the headset would feature twelve different tracking cameras.

So it’s certainly no surprise to hear Apple has patents for this sort of thing. Especially since it means the company can streamline control of the headset by skipping external remotes and controllers.

apple vr headset finger tracking

(Image credit: Apple/USPTO)

The patent itself mentions that the system will be able to use a combination of cameras, depth sensors, and alignment algorithms to enable hand and finger tracking. Crucially that finger tracking seems to involve keeping tabs on each individual finger, so it can register if you touch anything or make certain gestures in the air.

An example used by the patent involves a user spinning a finger ”in front of the camera in order to interact with a physical environment or sign into an account.”

We can’t guarantee that this exact system will actually make it to the final Apple VR headset. Patents often get filed and left to gather dust for a variety of reasons, after all. But considering what we’ve already heard how the headset supposedly works, it would be surprising if Apple didn’t include something very similar.

What else should we expect from the Apple VR headset?

While the term “VR headset” gets thrown around quite a lot, it sounds like Apple’s headset is set to offer an awful lot more. Word is that the headset is a precursor to the Apple Glasses, which are set to offer full augmented reality in an otherwise ordinary pair of glasses. 

The VR headset is reportedly being used to prep developers (and the public) for its ongoing AR ambitions. It will still offer virtual and mixed reality experiences, but it’s also reported to allow full pass-through AR that will let you see virtual objects in the real world. That’s partly why there are set to be so many exterior cameras and sensors.

We’ve heard rumors about the inclusion of LiDAR, dual 8K displays, eye tracking, and even external controllers. That’s right, despite setting up a system of robust body tracking, a patent has revealed Apple has at least considered using ‘smart rings’ to offer more fine-tuned hand and finger tracking.

But all of that comes at a cost. Word is that the headset could be as much as $3,000. So this is a much bigger purchase than, say, the $299 Oculus Quest 2. Heck, that’s the cost of three iPhone 12 Pros.

Nothing has been confirmed by Apple of course, and we’re going to have to wait a while before Cupertino blesses us with some of the specifics. Until mid-2022, if current rumors are to be believed.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. 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 about how terrible his Smart TV is.