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Apple VR and mixed reality headset release date, price, specs, and leaks

apple mixed reality headset
(Image credit: Future)

The Apple VR and mixed reality headset may not be as exciting as the hi-tech Apple Glasses we know are coming, but they are still the next best thing. Granted it's a lot closer to the best VR headsets of today, but it's still a big step towards the augmented reality future Apple is gunning for. Plus rumors claim that it's due to be released a lot sooner than Apple Glasses.

There have been a lot of rumors circulating about the Apple VR and mixed reality headsets this year. The consensus seems to be that this is an AR-focussed device rather than a traditional headset. But it also isn't going to be an impulse purchase, based on the current pricing rumors. Here's everything you need to know about the Apple VR and mixed reality headset.

Apple's VR and mixed reality headset could arrive as early as next year, and is set to prepare developers for the launch of Apple Glasses a few years down the line. But in an uncharacteristic move, Apple apparently won't be attempting to make its headset appeal to a larger audience.

By launching the headset ahead of Apple Glasses, it gives developers the opportunity to develop AR apps ahead of time. That way there are plenty of apps available by the time the AR lenses arrive. That's why it's a mixed reality headset, rather than just a pure virtual reality affair.

So without further ado, here's everything you need to know about the Apple VR and mixed reality headset.

Apple VR and mixed-reality headset release date

According to a very large report by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman back in January, Apple's VR and mixed reality headset is due to arrive sometime in 2022. According to Gurman, the headset was in the "late prototype stage." 

This forecast has been given more credence by a research note from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo who has the Apple AR headset slated for release in the second quarter of 2022. That means we could see the headset around April time next year. 

"We predict that Apple will launch AR HMD [head-mounted display] devices in 2Q22. The device will provide a video see-through AR experience, so the lens is also needed, and Genius is also a key supplier," Kuo explained. 

Apple VR and mixed reality headset vs Apple Glass

Apple Glass

(Image credit: Martin Hajek/iDropnews)

According to reports, the Apple VR and mixed reality headset is designed to be a precursor to Apple Glass. The AR lenses are supposed to offer an "optical see-through AR experience," according to Ming-Chi Kuo

In other words, based on everything we've heard, Apple Glass is designed to look and act like an ordinary lightweight pair of glasses. We're talking about glasses that are able to project information, and presumably imagery, onto its lenses 

The Apple VR and mixed reality headset is expected to be like a typical VR headset, but one with a number of exterior cameras and sensors that unlock bonus functionality.

That way Apple's VR and mixed reality headset can offer body tracking, and incorporate real-world environments in a virtual space. Plus, the Apple VR headset could incorporate a see-through experience that can deliver a form of augmented reality. So, it's not quite like the Oculus Quest 2, which is VR-only. 

Apple VR and mixed reality headset price

Reports on the Apple VR and mixed reality headset price have been mixed. But rumors suggest a developer focus, so pricing may center around attracting programmers.

Tim Cook has spoken at length about how AR is Apple's end goal. The headset is reported to be the first stage in the company's wearable AR ambitions. The headset's main goal is reportedly to prepare developers for the launch of Apple Glass, and ensure the specs have app support for launch. Apple's main incentive is not to make money, and reports claim the headset's price will reflect that.

While Apple's VR and mixed reality headset is supposed to be expensive, reports are divided on how expensive it's set to be.

A report from The Information claims that Apple's VR headset will be as high as $3,000. Gaming VR headsets rarely cost more than $1,000, though the Microsoft Hololens 2 does cost a whopping $3,500. 

However, Ming-Chi Kuo has predicted that the headset will only cost $1,000. Or the same as the iPhone 12 Pro. While this is still expensive, it's a lot more palatable for the average developer. Especially if the headset is as high-powered as reports have indicated.

In either case, the cost of entry is going to be high and certainly a lot higher than other stand-alone VR headsets. For example, the Oculus Quest 2 costs just $300..

Apple VR and mixed reality headset features

apple mixed-reality headset design

(Image credit: Future)

The main feature of the Apple headset is mixed reality. According to Mark Gurman, the headset will include external cameras which are currently being used to test features like hand-tracking and gesture control. Part of this includes the possibility of being able to type in the air with a virtual keyboard.

The Information's report has elaborated on this, claiming the headset will feature 12 tracking cameras that can feed information to two 8K displays in front of the user's eyes. On top of that, the headset will also reportedly feature LiDAR sensors.

For those that don't know, LiDAR uses lasers to measure distance, which can gather the area of a space quickly and accurately. A device can use this info to better place objects in AR, and has already been used this way on high-end iPad Pro as well as the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

However, all those sensors may not be working alone. Sources have told The Information that users will be able to wear a "thimble-like" device on their finger to help with hand tracking and other controls.

A lot of power is going to be needed to keep all this going, and Gurman's report claims that the headset will feature Apple's "most advanced and powerful chips." Apparently, the chip inside Apple's VR headset will be more powerful than the newly-launched M1 Mac chip. 

apple smart ring patent

(Image credit: Apple/USPTO)

A patent discovered by Apple Insider reveals that Apple has been working on some smart rings, which can be used to track finger and hand movements. This could be employed with the VR and mixed reality headset, to boost the capabilities of the external cameras.

The patent also mentions being able to detect objects the user is holding, including an Apple Pencil. That means the headset will be see what you want to do, and alter its functionality accordingly. So if you hold an Apple Pencil it sill know you want to hand write something, as oppose to typing. And so on

Apple VR and mixed reality headset design

Looks-wise, the Apple VR and mixed reality headset is said to look very much like other VR goggles, similar to the Oculus Quest 2, according to Gurman. However, some compromises have had to be made in order to keep it light and comfortable.

Because the chip inside the headset is supposed to be so powerful, it needs a cooling fan to make sure it doesn't overheat. That fan could only fit if Apple sacrificed the space normally reserved to accommodate glasses wearers, meaning you may not be able to wear glasses with the headset. But, to compensate, Apple will let users insert prescription lenses directly into the headset.

The headset is also said to take some inspiration from Apple's HomePod and AirPods, utilizing a mix of fabric and plastic components instead of metal. That way the excess weight can be minimized while still maintaining a solid "Apple" feel. 

The Information's report also claims that the headset will feature two 8K displays inside, one for each eye. 

Apple VR and mixed reality headset wish list: What we want

Apple Mixed-Reality Headset

(Image credit: The Information)

Long-term comfort: The problem with most VR headsets is that they're not ideal for long-term use. Discomfort generally increases after about 30 minutes. Of course, the more comfortable the headset is from the start, the longer you'll be able to keep going.

If Apple can design the AirPods Pro in such a way that you can forget they're there, it can certainly ensure its mixed reality headset is as pro-comfort as possible.

Solid battery life: Currently, the battery life on standalone headsets isn't great. The Oculus Quest 2 only lasts two to three hours, depending on what you're doing. We want Apple's VR and mixed reality headset to offer at least this much battery life, but ideally more. 

Proper AR: If Apple is going to kick start its wearable AR efforts with a mixed-reality headset, we want to see some proper AR features. Users will always be aware that the headset is in place, but Apple should, at the very least, do everything it can to make sure that any see-through AR functionality is as realistic as possible. That means good image quality, no noticeable lag, and a good field of view. 

No gimmicks: If the mixed reality headset really is a developer device that's being released to the public, the least Apple can do is make sure there's a reason to have one. Don't release the headset for the sake of it, especially if it really is that expensive. Give people an actual reason to pick one up for themselves, beyond the logo. 

Tom Pritchard

Tom covers a little bit of everything at Tom’s Guide, ranging from the latest electric cars all the way down to hot takes on why Christopher Nolan is wrong about everything. Appliances are also muscling their way into his routine, which is a pretty long way from his days as Editor at Gizmodo UK. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.