Apple Postponed AR Glasses, To Focus Cheaper Mixed Reality Headset
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman is reporting that Apple has postponed its AR glasses although it still plans to release a mixed reality headset in 2023. The AR glasses were to be a follow-up release following the launch of the Apple mixed-reality headset slated for this year. The postponement is due to technical challenges according to the Bloomberg report.
Apple was originally planning on releasing the Augmented Reality glasses following the debut of its much-rumored mixed reality headset. That plan has now been shelved according to the report.
Apple’s mixed reality headset combines both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Apple’s follow-up headset will now be a lower-cost version of its mixed reality headset and it could be released in 2024 or in early 2025, Bloomberg says, quoting people familiar with the matter.
The change of plans highlights the challenges that Apple is facing as it seeks to thrust its way into the immersive industry. Like Meta, Apple wants to bet on VR and AR devices as the technological frontier and moneymaker. However, Apple is coming face-to-face with some of the technical bottlenecks which have so far stood in the way of many XR hardware makers as they seek to build a consumer-friendly headset.
It now appears that Apple’s initial vision to launch a lightweight augmented reality glasses that look like conventional glasses and can comfortably be worn the whole day is years away, or may never materialize at all.
The current state of AR technology doesn’t allow for an ultra-immersive content. You do, however, get that with virtual reality technology. Meta Platforms currently dominates the VR headset market with its flagship Meta Quest 2 headset. While the company recently unveiled a work-focused headset, a successor to the Quest 2 headset scheduled for release later in the year is expected to offer users new degrees of immersion.
VR headsets are currently being used for playing video games, communicating in virtual meeting rooms, watching videos, and even virtual fitness. On the other hand, Augmented Reality glasses superimpose or overlay information or visuals onto the real-world views. The dream is to have users wear these glasses on a day-to-day basis as we go on our normal activities. Attempts at the smart glasses are yet to gain much success The technology still has some way to go to hit the sweet spot of performance and a suitable form factor.
The exorbitant costs also mean that the Apple headset could be a niche product targeting enthusiasts and deep-pocketed buyers rather than a mass-market product like Meta’s Quest headsets.
Apple’s first mixed-reality headset is set to launch later in the year and will cost roughly $3,000. The high price tag of the Apple mixed reality headset is a result of the advanced and high-resolution displays that it employs which features over 10 cameras that include sensors that work out where the user is looking. The headset also features a Mac-grade M2 processor along with a dedicated chip that handles the augmented reality and virtual reality visuals.
Apple aims to bring down the price of the follow-up mixed reality headset by employing chips that, performance-wise, will be at par with the iPhone chips instead of using the components deployed in the higher-end Mac computers. Apple aims to compete with the recently launched Meta Quest Pro headset that goes for $1,500. Apple will probably be aiming for this price tag with its lower-end mixed reality headset that will arrive in 2024 or 2025.
According to Apple trademark filings, the company is likely aiming for dual device strategy. In the unearthed documents, there are names such as “Reality Pro” and “Reality One”. The “Pro” name is likely referencing Apple’s initial mixed reality headset model with the “One” name being considered for the cheaper version of the headset. Apple also has a trademark filing for a “Reality Processor” suggesting the name for a dedicated chip that the company is working on.
Apple plans to focus on the lower-cost headset rather than the AR glasses that it originally planned to release just a year after the release of the initial headset.
Apple was even planning to release the headset at some point in 2023 but then postponed the launch to 2025 or thereabouts.
The rollout of the headset has now been postponed indefinitely according to people familiar with the matter. The Bloomberg report says work on the AR headset has also been pared back for now.
The Apple mixed reality headset set to launch this year will feature displays that deliver an all-encompassing VR environment as well as passthrough cameras mimicking the AR effect. The technology used in the mixed reality headset is simpler than that required to manufacture an AR-only device with a form factor similar to that of ordinary glasses.
Like all XR companies, Apple sees a small form factor for AR glasses as key to the future of immersive technology. Apple believes such hardware would eventually replace iPhone and transfer its main functions to the field of view of the AR glasses, ushering in a new computing frontier. With such a device, users can perform a lot of functions including seeing incoming notifications, getting map directions, making and taking phone calls, or taking photos straight from their faces.
However, it will be years before there is a perfect cocktail of the right batteries, chips, software as well as manufacturing capacity that will produce a lightweight product that can be worn at all times.
The Apple headset will also be a cumbersome battery. To lower the headset’s weight and minimize risks with heating, it will not be included in the device itself. Instead, the battery will supply the juice to the headset via a cable and it will sits in the user’s back pocket. The current state of technology still can’t support a lightweight AR device with a built-in battery.
The 1000-strong Apple Technology Development Group is the unit in charge of its Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality efforts, including the company’s two mixed reality headsets. Apart from this, there are other Apple teams looking into technologies that would be used in its future standalone glasses, should the company roll them out a few years from now.
Yet, Bloomberg reports that there are some insiders at Apple who are doubtful about whether the company would ever launch the AR glasses. However, this remains a long-term goal for Apple.