Apple is expected to provide a first glance at the mixed-reality headset, or perhaps just the operating system that runs it, at WWDC 2023. The first big new product from the company in a while means interest in the new systems is likely to be high. What do we think we know?
It’s an enterprise product (really)
Apple is a consumer company and inevitably plans to turn its new headset into a consumer product. Despite dispiriting sales estimates from people who’ve never seen the device, thousands of consumers will probably buy one, but that’s not really the audience — yet.
The first key audience for the new goggles will be enterprise clients. These will include businesses attempting to explore the implications and possibilities of these products to them; developers seeking big ideas for the next big thing; and many industries that already make use of solutions like these who will be hoping for better. So, now I’ve justified C-suite executives in their ambition to buy a set of Apple’s v.1 AR goggles on expenses (for “research purposes”), what else have we heard?
What it’s called
Apple has trademarked a few names in recent weeks, including Apple Reality, Apple Reality Pro, xrOS, and xrProOS. I think the first two names are for hardware, while the ‘xr’ nomenclature likely reflects the operating system names. The speculation has to be that Apple plans an entry-level (lower cost) product as well as a more sophisticated Pro range. Given the success of the iPhone Pro, that’s not unlikely.
What does the headset look like?
What the product(s) will look like is widely discussed. To summarize current speculation: designed using aluminium, glass, and carbon fiber, Apple’s mixed-reality headset will look a little like ski goggles. It will be equipped with a Digital Crown “Reality Control” system that lets users morph between virtual, augmented, and actual reality.
The glasses will have a cable connecting to a battery pack that promises six-hours battery life. And you’ll control the device with gesture, movement, and voice.
What technology is inside?
Powered by M-series processors, the device will host numerous (perhaps a dozen) video cameras. These will track hand and eye movements, map the environment, and support augmented-reality experiences. There’s an iris scanner for biometric identification.
Reports also claim use of expensive pancake lenses, which are thin and lightweight and will deliver 120 degrees of view. Small motors in the lenses will help optimize field of view, and it will be possible to slip prescription lenses into the screens so people who need glasses can also use these devices. The 4K micro OLED displays in these glasses will be made by Sony.
Wireless connections will include Bluetooth, WIFI 6E and LiDAR.
What kind of operating system?
While the xrProOS name is a surprise, suggesting as it does that the OS in these glasses will also be available in a pro version, the basic capacity of the OS straddles these primary elements:
- You’ll be able to experience immersive virtual reality environments, including movies and games.
- You’ll also be able to twist the Digital Crown to escape VR and enter an augmented reality space, in which you’ll be shown information concerning objects you see around you. This might help you follow walking directions, for example.
- A report also claims you’ll be able to use Apple Reality with a Mac — you will see the Mac desktop. This feature may not be available at the start.
- You will also be able to run iOS apps in 2D.
- One unique feature: the internal cameras on these devices will display a representation of your face on the front, making you appear more natural.
Teams across Apple have been scrambling to create solutions for the glasses. Various reports have suggested AR/VR versions of FaceTime, TV+, Safari, Messages, Maps, and Photos. For consumers, the focus is on streaming video and sports, gaming, fitness, and collaboration. But the operating system will also offer a development environment and App Store.
What kind of development environment will Apple build?
We don’t know a lot about development for these devices, as most reporting seems to have focused on these enterprise products from a consumer point of view. It seems likely we’ll see some positive implementations of Apple’s assistive technologies in things like scene, object and door detection, and gesture recognition.
One exciting rumor claimed Apple to be developing a Siri text-based development environment consumers can easily use to create and share experiences with others, including the chance to distribute these environments via the App Store. Given recent leaps in generative AI, these could be consumer-contributed VR gaming experiences, which might become a very exciting space. Enterprise users will be curious to develop consumer-facing experiences, robust testing, warehousing, and information support applications, and digital twins.
What about the release cadence?
While most expect the product to be previewed at WWDC and ship later this fall, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has previously warned that Apple might have pushed back production of the device, which could change this cadence. However, given the importance of wooing developers to build for the platform, it makes sense to expect at least a hardware preview at WWDC. You can also expect a very busy demo area in Apple Stores worldwide in the weeks before and after the hardware actually ships.
What will these things cost?
Estimates vary, but the consensus seems to be the Apple Reality goggles will cost $1,500-$3,000, with an accent on the higher price. Despite the high prices, some reports claim the build cost to be equally high, with Apple making very little margin, even at this price. Apple apparently predicts up to 10 million sales in the first year.
What are Apple’s future plans?
Apple has two paths for the evolution of the headset:
- One path leads toward a more affordable version of the initial ski-goggle style product, with the same functions. That product isn’t likely to appear until 2025.
- The second path is to miniaturize the hardware until it’s possible to wrap the tech up in a system that looks more like spectacles.
We expect to learn more about all of this on June 5. Assuming we do, check back later to see which of these speculations turns out to be closest to the facts.
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