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Apple AR headset at Apple March event? Here's why it's not likely

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

Apple is famously tight-lipped about its product plans — so much so when the company does announce a product launch, eager Apple observers pore over the company's every utterance, looking for a clue as to what to expect. That includes taking something as simple as the invitation announcing the time and place of the event and seeing if it includes any further details hidden in plain sight.

Such is the case with Apple's upcoming Peek Performance event, happening next Tuesday (March 8). The agenda would seem pretty straightforward, given the latest rumors about products in development at Apple — most people expect the iPhone SE 3, a new iPad Air and perhaps some sort of Mac, like a MacBook Pro or Mac mini. 

But internet sleuths think Apple could have something extra up its sleeve — a sneak preview of the mixed reality headset that Apple also reportedly has in the works. And they've got the teaser tweet to prove it.

As we previously reported, Apple senior vice president for marketing Greg Joswiak tweeted out a short video clip hyping up the March 8 Peek Performance event. It features the Apple logo — the same image in Apple's event invitation — only instead of a flat image, this one has a 3D effect, making it look like it's floating on the stage of the Steve Jobs Theater on Apple's Cupertino, Calif., campus. That has hints of augmented reality, which naturally puts people in mind of the rumored Apple VR/AR headset.

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That headset, expected at some point this year, would be a standalone device equipped with multiple tracking cameras as well as LiDAR sensors. With a focus on mixed reality, the headset would overlay virtual objects over the real world. The Apple VR/AR headset should not be confused with Apple Glasses, another rumored AR project that's more likely to arrive next year.

Giving people a sneak preview of the VR/AR headset on March 8 would make some sense, and not just because it fits in with the "peek" play-on-words in Apple's Peek Performance event title. A mixed reality headset is entirely new product for Apple, and when Apple enters new categories, it tends to take time to explain exactly what it's doing. The original iPhone appeared at a Macworld Expo keynote nearly six months before it went on sale. The Apple Watch also got a preview long before its actual launch.

While it would certainly be nice to see something completely new from Apple on March 8, an Apple VR/AR headset seems like a longshot to join the other rumored product announcements at next week's unveiling. Here's why I think Apple is going to hold off on showcasing a headset for now.

The March 8 event is already pretty crowded

I mentioned at the outset, Apple is already likely to show off a couple products — the iPhone SE 3 and the iPad Air 5. Even though the iPhone SE isn't likely to see drastic changes — it's expected to get a new chipset and add 5G compatibility, but otherwise the design is tipped to stay the same — and Apple won't need to spend much time telling us about what's new with the iPad Air, that's still a lot fit in one announcement. And that's before we consider whether any new Macs are going to show up, as Apple continues to bring its own silicon over to its lineup of laptops and desktops.

Say what you will about Apple, but the company understands how to reach an audience. And in this day and age of virtual product events, Apple knows that its target audience can only stay focused on a video stream for so long before attention begins to wander. For that reason, I would expect the March 8 event to wrap up after a tidy hour, and I can't see even the briefest of AR headset teasers fitting into such a tight window when there are actual shipping products to show off.

An Apple VR/AR headset launch isn't imminent

We know a lot about the iPhone SE 3 because there are people connected to Apple's supply chain who are chatty little devils. Thus, product leaks have given us a pretty good idea of what's in the works and — more critically — when it might show up. We're not at the stage with any Apple AR product yet, as leaks are still minimal. That's not a surprise, though, as the most reliable Apple observers are expecting to see that product later in the year.

True, nothing's preventing Apple from previewing the device now, long before a rumored launch. But even if Apple is planning to show off something in advance of an actual release date, the rumor mill would be cranking out details at a greater pace than it is right now.

It's not the right audience for this headset

Apple will look to appeal directly to consumers with its announcements on March 8 — here's what we're releasing and here's when you can buy it. That's a different message from what the company will need to talk about with an VR/AR headset. And that's not surprising since Apple is likely aiming for another audience for that product.

The audience I have in mind is developers, the people who will build the apps to be used on future Apple AR and VR offerings. A product like a mixed reality headset feels like it's being designed for app makers to help them finalize software for Apple Glasses — the more commercially appealing of Apple's two rumored AR offerings. 

For that reason, I am expecting Apple to show off its AR/VR headset early, but not on March 8. Rather, Apple traditionally hosts a developers conference in June, and I would think the WWDC crowd much more receptive to this kind of headset. At an event already chock full of previews — this is where Apple shows off the software updates coming to its products in the fall — an entirely new product category demanding apps of its own feels like a perfect fit. That's when you're going to see the Apple VR/AR headset in action at long last.

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.