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Apple's mixed reality headset could be a game changer — here's how

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

Will Apple make the mixed-reality headset mainstream? The company’s rumored high-tech headgear is reportedly coming in 2022, and it could put Meta's Oculus Quest 2 and other headsets on notice.

I think its key to success will be not gaming or passive forms of entertainment; instead, the Apple mixed reality headset could change the game pitched as a piece of integrated fitness equipment. 

Apple should make its first dedicated piece of mixed reality hardware the ultimate destination for Apple Fitness Plus, the $9.99/month on-demand workout service that debuted about a year ago. I tried Apple Fitness Plus for a while, but eventually found it challenging to follow workout classes on my small iPad and iPhone screens. Sure, I could cast workouts to my smart TV or use an Apple TV 4K, but that limits exercise locales to my living room.

I want to workout in a headset that transports me to Apple Fitness Plus’s gorgeous So-Cal studios in high-resolution. Wherever I might be, I could strap on my headset and feel like I’m in a gym, minus the concerns of crowds and cleanliness. As is already an Apple Fitness Plus feature, I’d pair my Apple Watch to see my heart rate and Apple Watch activity rings in real-time on my display.

According to separate reports from Mark Gurman and The Information, Apple’s mixed reality headset will sport external cameras that could be used for hand-tracking and gesture control. This could be used to monitor form in workouts, and suggest corrections based on your relative position, say for a yoga session. Then, for a strength training class, the cameras would ideally let me see my own dumbbells, balancing the digital illusion with a dose of reality.

Exercising in VR — Can Apple get it right?

VR workout programs are nothing new. I’ve played my share of BOXVR and Beat Saber (one of the best Oculus Quest 2 games) to work up a sweat when I’m stuck inside during the winter. My colleague Kelly Woo also tried an Oculus Quest for working out earlier this year, discovering VR exercise apps are both fun and effective. 

While you can launch the Apple Watch’s “Fitness Gaming” workout type to track metrics while using any of the best VR games for exercise, I’d still rather visit my apartment building’s gym because it includes some of the best gym equipment with GymKit. I can raise my Apple Watch 7 to the treadmill to automatically sync my metrics — a convenience Apple’s own VR headset could offer. If powering on the headset and starting a workout triggered my Apple Watch to start activity tracking, I’d be thrilled.

Of course, I’d be less thrilled if I'd prepared to workout, only to realize this so-called Apple mixed reality headset is out of juice. I already look for enough excuses to skip workouts. Excellent battery life will be crucial to making the headset a viable piece of exercise equipment. The Oculus Quest 2 gets 2-3 hours of battery life depending on what you’re doing in VR, so I’d hope Apple’s headset lasts at least as long.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims the headset will have Wi-Fi 6E support, letting it transfer large amounts of data with low latency. In other words, your iPhone or Mac computer could do all the hard work for the headset and help with battery life. This would alleviate concerns about having enough power to last an entire workout. 

There’s more that must be resolved for Apple to make the best VR headset for working out, or just the best VR headset overall. It can’t cost more than a Peloton Bike, for one. It also needs to be comfortable and durable enough to stay on during physical activity and survive sweat. If the headset is truly coming in 2022, we should hear possible answers to all these questions in due time.

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.