- The Apple VR headset is rumored to be an expensive niche device that will serve as a bridge to Apple’s AR glasses.
- Apple is testing the headset with a chip that’s even more powerful than the MacBook Pro M1 — but there’s a fan.
- It could feature external cameras for AR features, including gesture controls and possibly movement tracking for 'air typing'.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple is testing a VR headset codenamed N301, with prototypes making use of external sensors and handle augmented reality as well. The latter part is noteworthy, as the AR-centric Apple Glasses are reportedly still a way off, whereas the VR headset is tipped to arrive in 2022.
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Normally, Apple improves or repackages existing tech to make it more reliable and accessible for the average user. But considering VR’s struggle to gain mainstream consumer acceptance, Gurman says that’s not going to be the case this time.
Instead, his sources said that Apple VR is designed to be a “high-end, niche product” that serves to prepare both developers and consumers for the eventual release of the Apple Glasses.
That echos what Apple CEO Tim Cook has said in the past, when he noted that while VR was useful the company's endgame is AR.
Apple’s VR headset will be more expensive than those already on the market. Since it’s set to be a stand-alone device, we’d be surprised if it costs as much as the PC-powered $899 HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. Then again, Apple does charge $699 for a set of wheels, so we could be totally wrong with that assumption.
The N301 headset is said to be in the late prototype stage and will include some of Apple’s “most advanced and powerful chips” — more powerful than the recently-launched M1 chip found in the latest Macs. If the VR headset can beat M1 MacBooks in terms of performance, then we’ll have one phenomenal piece of kit on our hands.
Such a chip will need to be kept cool, which is why the VR headset will apparently contain a fan. And according to Gurman's report, Apple needed plenty of space for the cooling fan to run efficiently, forcing designers to trim down features in the headset used to accommodate glasses wearers. To ensure they’re not left out, Apple developed a way of inserting prescription lenses into the hardware itself.
Apple also took some cues from both AirPods and the HomePod speakers to reduce the headset’s weight. For example, it uses fabric and plastic materials instead of metal. As it stands, the headset is currently said to be around the same size as the Oculus Quest.
Prototypes of the headset also include external cameras, which Apple is using to test a variety of features, including hand-tracking and gesture controls. Another possible feature would allow users to type in the air via a virtual keyboard.
Where are Apple Glasses?
The Apple VR headset is much further along than Apple Glasses, codenamed N421. They’re still in the early stage called “architecture," which means Apple is working on the underlying technologies.
That corroborates another recent report saying Apple Glasses have moved into the second stage of development, with Apple focused on reducing weight while increasing battery life.
Gurman doesn’t expect to see them until 2023, though he notes it’s unclear how COVID-19 has affected development of both Apple Glasses and the VR headset. At the very least it has slowed down the decisions that need to be made during the engineering process.
With all that in mind, we'll have a while to wait before we hear any concrete information about Apple Glasses and an Apple VR headset.
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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.