Forget about Apple’s AR headset — give me a reason to care about mixed reality

apple mixed reality headset
(Image credit: Future)

According to rumors, an Apple VR and mixed reality headset will be coming out next year. But after hearing the latest on Apple's effort to build a mixed reality headset, I'm not as concerned if Apple's product will be worth the wait so much as whether it will be worth the weight.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who's pretty wired in on the status of future Apple product releases, claims the Apple headset coming in 2022 will weigh between 300 and 400 grams. The upper end of that range translates to just under 1 pound, and while that's not a lot of weight in the greater scheme of things, it's still an extra pound I don't have to worry about carrying around right now. And it's attached to my head.

Yes, yes — a 300 to 400 gram headset is very light, especially when you consider that the Oculus Quest 2 weighs 503 grams (or about 1.1 pounds). But I don't particularly enjoy wearing that headset on my face, either. I can't imagine shaving off a little extra poundage will make that much of a difference.

Oculus Quest 2

Well, at least Apple's headset should be lighter than an Oculus Quest 2. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I've gone to a lot of headset demos in recent years — Oculus headsets, the HTC Vive, headsets from companies as mighty as Microsoft to tiny startups that have long since faded from view. And I'm not ashamed to say that my favorite moment of every VR, AR and mixed reality headset demo is the exact moment when I get to take the headset off.

I'm not ashamed to say that my favorite moment of every VR, AR and mixed reality headset demo is the exact moment when I get to take the headset off.

Headsets are awkward and uncomfortable to wear. They can be disorienting, especially the ones that place you in a virtual world. And boy, do they make you sweat, especially where the viewfinder comes into contact with your skin. (Another favorite part of headset demos is watching someone take the headset I've just removed from my fevered brow and vigorously towel it down before handing it off to the next person getting a demo. By the way, sorry if that was you behind me in line.)

And I don't think this is a unique feeling that only I, a delicate flower of a man, experiences when wearing a mixed reality headset. Consider the number of people who wear glasses in this world. Now consider the lengths they will go to to not wear glasses, whether it's turning to contact lenses or even something as significant as Lasik surgery to correct their vision.

In other words, there are people who need glasses to see things properly who are so desperate not to have to wear those glasses that they are willing to stick tiny lenses directly on their corneas or have a doctor shoot actual lasers into their eyeballs. We're then supposed to believe that these same people will be clamoring to slap something on their face just because Apple or Facebook/Meta or someone else thinks it's the hot new trend.

I'm sorry, but I just don't buy that. And the idea that things will change just because Apple's rumored headset will weigh a mere 400 grams or so reinforces my belief that the so-called "metaverse" where we'll eagerly strap on headgear to have virtual objects float before our eyes is a bunch of marketing baloney that Mark Zuckerberg came up with so that people would stop asking him about why his social network is helping undermine western civilization.

Given the breathless coverage of the metaverse since Zuckerberg changed the name of Facebook to Meta, you'd have to give him credit for successfully changing the subject.

The use cases floated around so far for mixed reality — immersive gaming, VR Zoom calls, superimposed graphics and the like — don't strike me as particularly compelling.

What's going to make or break Apple's mixed reality headset — or any similar device from a different company — isn't how much it weighs (though yes, by all means, please make it weigh less). Rather, there has to be a compelling use case, something that makes me want to put on a headset to experience things I couldn't with any other device. Maybe that becomes more clear the closer we get to such a product becoming a reality, but the use cases floated around so far — immersive gaming, VR zoom calls, superimposed graphics and the like — don't strike me as particularly compelling.

I'll be happy to be proven wrong when Apple's rumored headset comes out and I find that it opens up new worlds that my simple brain simply can't fathom at this point in time. But beyond a few niche uses, mixed reality just hasn't proven it's the next big anything. And it will be up to headset makers to change that fact.

Philip Michaels

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.

  • Praxiteles
    Maybe your job has no particular compelling use case for mixed reality.

    Couldn't the lack of a reason simply be a failure of imagination for other people's jobs?

    There are thousands of use cases where mixed reality hold the promise of improving the on the job speed and effectiveness of the user.

    When a surgeon is operating on tumors which aren't visible to the human eye (which can be many) - which surgeon do you want - the one that's going at it by memory from the scans - or the one for whom the scan are super-imposed in realtime on the surgical site.

    When the builder is proposing plans for the bathroom - do you want him simply saying where everything is going to go - or do you want both of you to see exactly where everything is going to go - so you don't discover there was a miscommunication on where the toilet would be placed - and have to bring them back to revise it. (Happened to people we know.)

    If you have limited vision - such as central macular degeneration ...

    If you want to see furniture full realized in your home before you buy it (instead of trying to peer through the AR tunnel of your phone)...

    If you want to experience a fully 3D hologram lecture ... or have your favorite comedian appearing to be delivering a one person show in your living room...

    If you wanted dance instruction in a way that allowed you to look down at a virtual instructor standing right next to you...

    If you wanted to be taught to play the piano virtually with music mapped to the keys ...

    If you wanted the vivid experience of someone sitting on the couch next to you that was in fact in another city ...

    If you wanted to transform the faces of people in the city to all be beautiful, scary, or sexy - you could live in a digitally different world with Mixed Reality.

    It seems like the MR scenarios are endless. It seems the real challenge is pushing our imagination to find those compelling scenarios that actually make a difference and even begin fixing the social and political damage technology is having on the world. What MR scenarios might those be?
  • InAllSeriousness
    To judge the potential of AR based on today's tech is like handing someone a Palm Pilot, and saying "why do I need a smartphone? The touch screen is terrible, just give me buttons. The apps are poorly designed. The internet is limited. I'd rather just use a PC." I looked at those terrible Palm Pilot devices, and I always thought "If someone did this right, it'd be amazing!" The potential was always there.

    AR/VR is cumbersome, uncomfortable, and unenticing... right now. But AR is all about the untapped potential. In its ideal form, it has the potential to replace smartphones, and really all screens. Content isn't limited to a box – you don't need to own a big TV, when you can just put an IMAX screen on your wall. Or navigation overlays, or browsing the internet, or checking the weather. Almost every app on my phone, I could envision a better version in AR that's just part of the world around me, rather than looking down at my screen. That's the vision, and a use case I'd put on the glasses for.

    Lots of hurdles to overcome – WAY smaller headsets, apps, the entire ecosystem needs built. I'd give it 10-20 years... but to me, mass adoption of AR is inevitable. It might take a generation, but it's gonna happen.
  • Elterrible
    Mixed Reality is go anywhere technology. Games like Pokémon Go, will instantly become more immersive on the iPhone because of it and you will have Pokémon battle tournaments at public parks. I’m not a huge Pokémon fan myself, but I can tell you there are a lot of them out there that would kill for this experience.

    Now imagine some D&D group doing the same thing and actually having quest orchestrated from MacBook near you, with your own personal choice of location that is being augmented with game content.

    The devs can focus most of the graphics on the creatures, because you don’t have to render backgrounds as nature did that for you.