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Bad news for Apple's next big thing — VR/AR headset may miss this year

apple mixed reality headset render
(Image credit: Ian Zelbo)

Update: Apple's AR headset could be powered by 'realityOS.'

Apple may not quite be ready to jump into a new reality. A report claims that the rumored Apple VR/AR headset slated for release this year may be pushed back to 2023.

That's the word from Bloomberg (opens in new tab), citing "people familiar with the situation." According to the report, Apple could be scrapping plans to show off the rumored headset at this June's Worldwide Developer Conference. Instead, work is expected to continue in the background, with an eye toward announcing the product later in the year or possibly pushing the launch to next year, instead.

The Apple VR/AR headset is a highly anticipated product because it would mark Apple's entry into an entirely new product category, just like the launches of the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch before it. The headset would use mixed reality — a combination of augmented and virtual realities — and would likely be a standalone device. It's also expected to be a fairly expensive niche product, at least for its initial release.

We had last heard that the Apple VR/AR headset was in the late prototype stages as it moved toward a 2022 launch. There's no word on Apple's reasoning behind delaying the launch of its headset, and Apple has yet to provide any comment. (Not a surprise, since Apple hasn't even acknowledged the existence of a headset project.)

However, the Bloomberg report does detail the issues Apple has faced with developing the headset, such as the thermal issues created by using laptop chips like Apple's own M1 silicon and developing on-board cameras. Bloomberg also notes that some of Apple engineers have left the project to go work for Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, which is working on its Project Cambria mixed reality headset, which could also come out this year.

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With Apple's headset possibly not showing up until 2023, the Apple developer conference that year is expected to take on a VR-heavy focus, as Apple pushes app makers to build AR and VR offerings. However, don't expect mixed reality to be a no-show at this year's Worldwide Developer Conference. Reportedly, iOS 16 is stepping up its support for such apps, building on efforts like the ARKit developer tools that have appeared in previous versions. Bloomberg adds that support for Apple's future headset could be built into iOS 16 as well.

The VR/AR headset isn't Apple's only planned foray into mixed reality. The company is also rumored to have a pair of AR-focused Apple Glasses in the works, though those aren't expected before 2023 at the earliest.

Obviously, we had hoped to see a new Apple product sooner rather than later. But if we've learned one thing from Apple's product launches, new devices don't see the light of day until Apple's good and ready to roll them out.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.