Apple VR/AR headset reportedly launching this year against wishes of design team

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

The Apple VR/AR headset has suffered a lot of delays, according to rumors, but the latest batch claim it’s set to arrive later this year. But that might not have happened, according to The Financial Times, had Apple executives not overruled the design team.

Financial Times’ report claims that Apple’s industrial design team warned against releasing the headset — claiming it wasn’t ready. Evidently they wanted to wait until more “lightweight AR glasses became technically feasible." However, these concerns were reportedly overruled by Apple operations chief Jeff Williams and CEO Tim Cook.

Sources speaking to FT claimed that there was “huge pressure to ship” the mixed reality headset, rumored to be called Apple Reality Pro. Instead the industrial design team “have been postponing the launch each year for the past [few] years”. Apparently to allow technology to catch up with their vision.

The headset has apparently been in development for seven years already, with production kicking off in 2016, and the timing of the launch has reportedly been a topic of contention in the years since. This time, however, the design team was reportedly overruled and rumors point to the headset being unveiled at WWDC 2023 in June. 

Apple VR/AR headset: Is Apple right to push ahead with launch?

I can understand why the design team would want to make sure their product was perfect, but at the same time their goals do come across as pretty unrealistic. The idea of launching lightweight AR glasses is still a long way off, and reports suggest Apple itself has pushed development of Apple Glasses onto the backburner.

Not to mention the fact that the Reality Pro headset sounds like a very different product than the long-rumored Apple Glasses. It’s a product that offers pass-through AR, but is still capable of traditional virtual reality experiences. It’s also something that’s possible to do with current technology, as shown by the increasing number of competing devices — including the Meta Quest Pro and HTC Vive XR Elite.

Not only does Apple need to start carving its own market share in VR, it needs to ensure it has an appropriate level of software support from developers.

While Apple has proven time and again that it doesn’t need to be the first to market, there’s a difference between holding back on certain iPhone features and refusing to release a brand new platform. Particularly if that platform is, as many companies are betting on, the “next big thing." Not only does Apple need to start carving its own market share, it needs to ensure it has an appropriate level of software support from developers.

People won’t buy a headset if they can’t do anything with it, especially if it’s as expensive as the Apple Reality Pro is rumored to be. But at the same time developers can’t create apps for a product that isn’t actually available. That’s where the likes of Meta and HTC, who have been in the headset business for years, already have an advantage.

So far everything points to Apple marketing its headset as a premium, developer-centric product rather than one aimed at consumers. Past rumors claim this is to take the first steps in preparing consumers and developers for the eventual release of Apple Glasses.

With all of that in mind, it’s no surprise that both Cook and Williams pushed to launch sooner rather than later. How that might affect the final product isn’t clear at this point.

Apple hasn’t confirmed or denied any of this, as is its way. But since WWDC typically kicks off in the first week of June we don’t have long to wait to find out whether the headset really is coming or not. In the meantime, our Apple VR/AR headset hub has all the latest rumors and leaks. 

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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.