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Apple VR/AR headset — everything we know so far

apple mixed reality headset
(Image credit: Future)

The Apple VR and augmented reality or mixed reality headset continues to pop up in rumors and other reports. While Apple has not officially announced the device, CEO Tim Cook has called the area of AR "critically important" and one of "very few profound technologies."

Like the Oculus Quest 2 or PSVR 2, Apple's supposed VR ambitions want to compete with the best VR headsets around. 

And we should note, Apple's VR/AR headset is separate from its rumored Apple Glasses, which, as the name suggests, are purely augmented reality. They're also reportedly way in the future, while the Apple AR/VR headset could arrive as soon as the end of this year. 

We've seen several reports coming out regarding Apple VR/AR, including next generation display technology and its potential price and release window. Here's everything you need to know about the Apple VR and mixed reality headset.

Apple AR/VR headset news (update April 14)

Apple VR and mixed-reality headset release date speculation

A January 2021 report by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman claimed that Apple's VR and mixed reality headset would show up sometime in 2022. Others backed up that forecast, including Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo who has the Apple's VR/AR headset slated for the end of 2022 with shipments ramping up in the first quarter of 2023. Display Supply Chain Consultants also believes in a late 2022 launch.

At first, Kuo was predicting a Q2 2022 launch. It seems that this delay is down to the complex design of the headset, combined with Apple's own standards, which are supposedly much higher than competitors’ products.

In other words, developing such a headset is hard work and Apple wants to make sure it's doing its job properly. Kuo also claimed the headset will launch with a full complement of hardware, software and services, and the delay means developers will have more time to work on them.

That could explain a more recent report from Bloomberg, claiming that Apple may push back the launch of the headset, which was going to get a preview at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June. While it still seems like there could be a mention of the headset at WWDC 2022 via mentions within iOS 16, the new claim from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman is an announcement by the end of 2022 or in 2023. Indeed, analyst Jeff Pu claims in an April research report that the Apple VR/AR headset will arrive in 2023.

Kuo forecasts that Apple will follow up on the 2022 release of the Apple headset with a second version in 2024 that will be significantly lighter and feature a faster processor.

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. 

However Mark Gurman has claimed that the Apple headset will be designed for short trips into VR — rather than jumping on the 'metaverse' bandwagon like so many others. In fact Apple is said to have declared metaverse if "off limits". Users will be able to use the mixed reality headset for communication, content viewing and gaming, but it won't be a device you wear all day, or as a replacement for real life.

Apple VR and mixed reality headset rumored 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.

That being said, Mark Gurman has claimed the headset will be heavy on gaming, media consumption and communication, suggesting Apple is designing something with consumers in mind. Maybe this could mean a cheaper second-gen headset later. However, that doesn't necessarily mean the first-generation headset won't be expensive, or a primarily designed for developer use.

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. 

Mark Gurman claims that the headset could cost upwards of $2,000. That price tag is supposed to account for the headset's hardware, which could include the Apple M1 Pro chip, an extended development time and the usual increased markup applied to other Apple products.

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.

But a more recent report by Display Supply Chain Consultants, or DSCC, states that Apple's headset would cost "several thousand dollars."

In any 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 $300 by comparison.

Apple VR and mixed reality headset rumored 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. This report was contradicted by Display Supply Chain Consultants, or DSCC, which claims that Sony is making 4K 4000 x 4000 displays for Apple's headset with a 1.4-inch diagonal. Although, DSCC did mention that LiDAR was a possibility.

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.

And, according to DSCC, Apple might cram in three displays total inside its headset. There could be the two Sony-made 4K displays mentioned above, as well as one larger lower resolution AMOLED display on the back. This, according to the report, would allow Apple to create a foveated display. 

A foveated display refers to the fovea that sits at the back of a person's eye, along the retina. The fovea helps with sharpening central vision. A foveated VR headset could use eye tracking to help focus an image on what the user is looking at while lowering the resolution around the periphery. This video by YouTube channel SweViver does an excellent job explaining fixed foveated rendering, or FFR. 

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. 

Speaking of specs, a newer report from Kuo has the headset tipped to get a brace or processors, suggesting Apple won't be scrimping on power. 

"The higher-end processor will have similar computing power as the M1 for Mac, whereas the lower-end processor will be in charge of sensor-related computing," Kuo predicts.

"Apple’s AR headset requires a separate processor as the computing power of the sensor is significantly higher than that of the iPhone. 

"For example, the AR headset requires at least 6-8 optical modules to simultaneously provide continuous video see-through AR services to users. In comparison, an iPhone requires up to 3 optical modules running simultaneously and does not require continuous computing."

According to Kuo that hardware will also need a significant amount of power. To the point where the headset will apparently come with a 96W MacBook charger to keep everything powered on.

Not so long ago, Kuo also shared that the device could get hand gesture controls as well as object detection features, which could be enabled through "highly sensitive 3D sensing modules."

"The AR/MR headset can detect not only the position change of the user or other people’s hand and object in front of the user's eyes but also the dynamic detail change of the hand," he predicts. As an example, Kuo suggested when users change their hand from a clenched fist to an opened hand, the machine could track this movement and create an image of a balloon floating away as if released.

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

Per analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, he believes that Apple will use "3P pancake lenses" that will have a folded design to allow light to reflect back and forth between the display and lenses. This could allow for a headset design that's compact and lightweight.

Ming-Chi Kuo also claims that the headset will come with Wi-Fi 6E support, which would allow it to connect to a separate device and transfer large amounts of data with low latency. This means the headset could allow a separate device, like an iPhone or Mac, to do all the hard work and beam it to the headset without the need for a physical cable.

Not doing all the processing in the headset itself will also mean Apple can help keep the weight low and preserve battery life for much longer than it would have lasted otherwise.

Apple VR and mixed reality headset design

According to a report by The Information from early 2021, the outlet received design sketches of what Apple's mixed reality headset might look like. This is apparently based on early prototype work by Apple engineers and may not reflect the final product.

apple vr and mixed reality headset fan render side view

(Image credit: Ian Zelbo)

Concept artist Ian Zelbo also created some renders of a possible headset design, based on The Information's leak from earlier in the year. 

Regardless, with this being Apple, we'd expect the mixed reality headset to sport a bit of slick industrial design with a lot of user ergonomics in mind. 

For what it's worth, Ming-Chi Kou has claimed the Apple headset will weigh between 300 and 400 grams (a little less than a pound) when it debuts. A lighter version is in the works for a subsequent release, Kou adds.

Apple Glasses realityOS

A whole new device form factor requires a tweaked operating system, and it looks like that’s what Apple will be providing, with reference to “realityOS” in App Store upload logs by eagle-eyed developers

There's not much information on this potential software, but it would make sense for Apple to come up with a custom OS for it's VR and AR gadgets. We'd hazard a guess that such an operating system would have more in common with iOS than macOS. 

Apple VR and mixed reality headset: Will you want to buy it?

Current reports and rumors suggest that Apple's AR/VR mixed reality headset will have a professional and developer focus. The idea is to ensure developers have a real device so they can get to grips with designing apps for augmented reality, ahead of the eventual launch of the Apple Glasses AR specs.

We've read reports that suggest that Apple's AR/VR headset could cost as high as $3,000, whereas other reports suggest a device that's "several thousand dollars."

But with the Apple Glasses still reportedly several years away, time may change the appeal of the Apple headset. After all, the more time developers have with it, the more apps they can release, and the more interesting it will be to own. That's assuming the price tag doesn't continue to put people off. 

Granted, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has stated that Apple could be looking to launch a second-generation headset in 2024. He expects this headset to sell 10 million units, rivaling the Oculus Quest 2. Maybe this headset will have much larger mass-market appeal.

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. 

A focus on fitness: With possible integration with Apple Fitness Plus and the Apple Watch, the Apple headset could be a game changer for fitness. You could use the device during workouts and see your progress as you follow along with personal trainers. 

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 Pritchard

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. 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 that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.