The last time we heard any details about Apple’s long-rumored plans in the virtual/augmented reality space, the company was implementing a two-year internal delay from a previously planned 2020 launch. Today, Bloomberg cites “people with knowledge of the matter” in reporting some new supposed details for the standalone Apple VR headset, which Bloomberg suggests could launch in 2022 as a precursor to a more mass-market AR headset.
From a tech design perspective, the most notable detail in the report is that Apple’s latest VR prototypes have “removed the space VR gadgets usually reserve for users who need to wear eyeglasses.” That could help avoid some of the “ski goggle” bulk usually associated with the “eyebox” on most current headsets. For users with poor eyesight, the prototype apparently utilizes “custom prescription lenses” in the headset itself, according to Bloomberg’s unnamed sources.
Bloomberg also reports that the Apple headset prototype currently sports a fabric exterior to reduce weight (shades of Google’s defunct Daydream VR there) and a fan to help cool internal processors that reportedly “beat the performance of Apple’s M1 Mac processors.” Some prototypes also reportedly including built-in hand-tracking and the ability to type on a virtual keyboard through a custom-built OS.
Those kinds of features, combined with “displays that are much higher-resolution than those in existing VR products” will reportedly mean the price of the Apple headset is “far more expensive than those from rivals,” potentially including the $1,000 Valve Index. That could position the headset as a niche, ultra-high-end device akin to the Mac Pro desktop. But it could also set the stage for a more mass-market Apple push into transparent AR glasses, which Bloomberg suggests could be unveiled by 2023.
There is another possibility, though the Bloomberg story does not posit it. This may purely be a development tool to prepare app developers for making content for the mass-market consumer AR headset, just as an A12Z-equipped Mac mini was provided to developers to enable them to make preparations for the launch of Apple’s M1-based Macs last year. It would be surprising for Apple to launch a primarily VR headset as a consumer device when it has not already offered robust APIs and the like for making VR rather than AR content.
In any case, Apple’s decision to purchase sports-and-events-focused firm NextVR last year suggests the company’s VR and AR ambitions are more than just a passing fancy. History is littered with examples of Apple ideas that never made it out of the prototype phase, though. Until an official announcement is made, an Apple VR headset could still be among them.