Apple is getting ready to release an AR/VR head-mounted display sometime in 2023.
We know this truth to be self-evident because the tech press has said so.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple prognosticator par-excellence, tells us that Apple has filed trademark applications for the names “Reality One,” “Reality Pro” and “Reality Processor.” According to an August 28, 2022 article, Gurman claims, “The company is aiming to release its first mixed-reality headset at the high end of the market in 2023.”
Back in May, Ars Technica regaled us with stories about how difficult it has been for Apple to produce such a headset, and even went so far as to say that, despite him being gone from the company, Jony Ive is still involved. Ars, too, believes that such a device is coming in 2023, stating “Apple initially planned to launch the headset in 2019, but it now looks like it could instead be announced either later this year or in 2023.”
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Ars has been following this story closely, reporting just this month that Apple’s headset will “scan your iris when you put it on” and again claiming, “Apple’s headset has faced several delays, but it is now slated to release sometime in 2023 at a higher price.” That “higher” in the statement refers to a price in excess of the $1,499.99 that Meta (aka Facebook) is charging for its Quest Pro headset.
If the tech rumor mills say it’s true, it has to be, right? Right?
I don’t think so. I just don’t buy the idea that Apple is going to release some clunky head-mounted display in 2023, and try to foist it on its customers. According to Ars, the Quest Pro weighs 722 grams, or about 1.5 pounds. I just don’t believe Apple is going to try to hang something that weighs more than a 12-inch iPad off of your face.
It’s just not Apple’s way.
Yes, Apple is investing in AR
Apple has been investing in AR. As far back as 2017, Apple released ARKit, a software library designed to help developers build AR apps for the iPad. Apple has continued to work on ARKit, releasing ARKit 2.0 in 2018.
This makes total sense. The idea of AR and VR, sort of a poor-man’s holodeck, is intriguing. For companies with as big a war chest as Apple, Meta, and Microsoft, it makes total sense for them to invest in some development and even pure research into making something work.
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Further, with Apple’s huge extended army of developers, why not seed the community with a few libraries and see what they produce?
Beyond ARKit, it’s not clear exactly where Apple is investing. But it would make logical sense to assume it has a team working on display technology, both for personal wearable use and for heads-up displays, like in cars.
But don’t confuse investing and research with shipping.
Apple is not Google
Google is famous for trying projects, and even releasing them, only to cancel them sometime later when they don’t prove to be as viable as some internal metric requires. In fact, the website Killed By Google counts 278 such launched-and-killed projects.
Google Glass was one such product. We all knew it was destined for failure the minute it launched. It was ugly, intrusive, off-putting, and underpowered. It was also quintessentially Google. While the general public did not react well to Glassholes, there was some benefit to the technology in the enterprise space.
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But this is what Google does. Google throws products and technologies against the wall to see what sticks. Apple just simply does not work that way. Apple builds products it expects large markets to adopt.
Apple can certainly bring the WTH
This is not to say that everything Apple does is inspired. Apple history is chock full of WTH moments.
Putting a charging port on the bottom of a mouse isn’t exactly clueful. The round Trash Can Mac Pro inspired much derision. The “butterfly” keyboard in Mac notebooks inspired much hatred. The $400 optional wheels for the latest Mac Pro inspired considerable annoyance. And the thousand dollar monitor stand for the Pro Display XDR inspired Adrian Kingsley-Hughes to call it the “most Apple thing ever.”
Apple creates category-defining products
But these aren’t examples of product categories. Apple’s product categories are rock solid. The iPod (in its day). The iPhone. The iPad. The Apple Watch. The Mac. AirPods. These are enormously successful, category-defining products.
You don’t see Apple adding a drone or an electric scooter to its product line. While it owns Beats and therefore has a bunch of Beats branded audio devices, the branded items are the genre-dominating AirPods.
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Sure, as mentioned, there are some misses. The Apple TV box and the HomePod aren’t home runs. Roku beats the heck out of the Apple TV box and Alexa makes HomePod seem irrelevant. But the Apple TV and HomePod are still solid products that round out very solid product lines.
Thinking about Apple’s mixed-reality headset
I know the world’s most tuned-in Apple watchers all claim that Apple is about to come out with its own mixed-reality headset. But it just doesn’t track.
The 2022 and 2023 technology for such a device is capable of producing highly realistic imagery in the eye-focused displays. But can you seriously see Tim Cook on stage walking around with a giant plastic blob on top of his forehead? It’s not svelte. It’s not sleek. It’s cumbersome, heavy, uncomfortable, and disorienting.
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Someday it will be different. Someday, tech companies will be able to make super realistic mixed-reality work and deliver that mixed-reality in a pair of glasses — that would involve wearing a device that weighs ten or twelve grams, not something that weighs 64 times that, like the clunky Quest Pro headset from Meta does.
When Apple can make a mixed-reality headset that feels and looks like stylish glasses, you can be sure they’ll do so.
But what about now?
But what about all of these rumors? Surely, they can’t all be wrong?
My guess (and it’s most definitely a guess) is that Apple is absolutely moving forward with AR/VR research. Miniaturization technology, like what the company is able to put into the Apple Watch and the AirPods Pro, is a good first step. Clearly, Apple is working on wearable technology. It’s very likely this will — someday — include a mixed-reality pair of glasses.
But today? If Apple is working on a head-mounted, iPad-weight, face-covering pair of teched-out scuba goggles, it’s a product intended for developers, to help software creatives explore where this technology might go. And yes, Apple might sell its AR/VR hardware development kit, but my guess is that it will be limited to registered developers only.
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Apple may also be working on incorporating AR/VR technology into heads-up displays, especially if the rumors of Apple engineers working on automotive technology are true.
Finally, given the work Apple has done in advanced AI in its camera systems, I’m sure we’ll see additional limited AR and VR applications delivered through iPhone and iPad apps.
What do you think? Am I wrong? Will Apple release a mainstream helmet display in 2023 for the mass market? Let me know in the comments below.
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