Apple's long-awaited mixed reality headset is a company's ambitious attempt to create a 3D version of the iPhone operating system that would stand out from competitors' products. The roughly $3,000 gadget, likely called Reality Pro, will demonstrate a new approach to virtual meetings and immersive video, stumbling in the Meta-dominated VR industry.
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Apple enters an uncertain marketplace with a premium product. The company's technology development team of around 1,000 people has spent more than seven years on the project, and the business expects it to become a new revenue source, especially considering that sales growth will stagnate this year.
But virtual reality has proved to be a challenge for the greatest technology kingpins. Although some analysts forecast the industry to surpass $100 billion by the end of the decade, headsets remain considered niche goods—and Meta has lost billions in its efforts.
Apple's aim is to introduce something new. Among those familiar with the product, eye and hand tracking will be the most compelling selling point. These include advanced video conferencing and FaceTime-based meeting rooms. The headset will also be able to display immersive video content, connect to an external display for an iPhone and iPad.
The headset will include several external cameras that can monitor the user's hands and sensors in the eye-reading device. This will enable a person to select an item on the screen, be it a button, a program icon, or a list. It's quite simple to operate a headset that relies on a handheld controller.
Apple's new gadget will combine virtual and augmented reality. With virtual reality, users can see the image and content while wearing glasses. Additionally, augmented reality superimposes digital content on the real world.
Apple will offer special lenses for eyeglasses that are located inside the case itself.
Apple expects the device to have the Digital Crown, a Apple Watch-like wheel that allows you to toggle between VR and AR.
In virtual reality, the FaceTime software will realistically show the user's face and entire body. These avatars will allow two people — each with an Apple headset — to communicate immersively. The technology differs from the virtual meeting rooms on the Meta headset, which creates a more cartoon-like user avatar.
Because of the enormous processing power required for this feature, the headset will only support realistic avatars during one-on-one video chats. However, additional users will appear as an icon or Memoji, Apple's customized emoji.
When making an iPhone FaceTime call, use Animoji. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Apple intends to market the device this spring, although the schedule may change. This will enable the company to discuss the product at the annual Software Developers Conference in June before releasing it later this year, according to Bloomberg sources.
Apple is already working on a cheaper version, which may be released in late 2024 or early 2025, that will cost less than $1,500.
Apple expects to sell about a million copies of its new headset in its first year, compared to more than 200 million units of the iPhone, the company's biggest earner in Cupertino. However, the company does not intend to immediately make a profit on the initial version – even at a high price – indicating that it intends to continue developing the platform.
Apple has discussed with a dozen media partners whether or not it will be possible to use the new gadget in any way. Apple is also working on updating its own Apple TV+ content to work with the headset in 2020. NextVR, a streaming company, has developed sports content for the new device.
Apple intends to make the headset a video viewing experience that will make viewers feel like they're watching a film in another world, such as the desert or outer space. However, the headset's speakers may not be able to support it, and users may need to wear AirPods to enjoy the full surround sound experience.
The device will also have a variety of productivity options, including the ability to act as a Mac external monitor. With this feature, users will be able to see the computer display in virtual reality while still controlling it using a trackpad or mouse and a physical keyboard.
The headset's operating system, called xrOS, will have many of the same features as the iPhone and iPad but in a 3D environment. These include the Safari web browser, Photos, Messages, and the Calendar app, as well as apps for company services such as the App Store for installing third-party software, Apple TV+, and podcasts.
Apple users should already know the headset's main interface, which will be similar to that of the iPhone and iPad, with a main screen that may be changed. App icons will include weather, calendar appointments, and stock market numbers.
When users need to type in the air with their hands, they can use the Siri voice assistant or the iPhone, Mac, or iPad keyboard. However, you don't need an iPhone to work, according to the company.
Third-party games are expected to become a popular offering from third-party developers. In 2017, ARKit and other tools were released to assist in the creation of the iPhone's augmented reality experience. This provided a framework for programmers to write programs, games, and services.
According to trademark applications filed by Apple, the device will include a modified M2 chip found in previous Macs, as well as a dedicated processor for graphics and mixed reality.
Apple decided to make an external battery that is placed in the user's pocket and connected via a cable to solve a second issue: the device overheated when placed on the user's face. Another improvement is the inclusion of a cooling fan, similar to high-end Macs.
The Meta Quest headset can last up to two hours on a single battery, comparable to competitors' devices. The battery is large, measuring about the size of two iPhone 14 Pro Max stacked on top of each other, or about 15.2 cm high and 1.27 thick.
Meta's batteries are placed on the back of the headset in a manner that helps balance the device on the person's head. Some testers found the product to be bulky.
Other problems might arise due to the relatively short battery life — about 20 hours less than Apple's new MacBook Pro — and the fact that users will need to purchase many batteries and replace them often.
Apple recognized these difficulties within the company and attempted to establish realistic expectations for the product. According to the company, the device has an advantage of encouraging consumers to visit Apple retail stores to try out the product or acquire another item, such as an iPad or AirPods.
The initial headset will be made of aluminum and glass, and will resemble Apple's $550 AirPods Max. The product will have a curved screen on the front, speakers on the sides, and a special headband that allows the device to be placed on the head, removing it from the competition's usually plastic design.
Apple likes to make its headsets unique: the iPod had a wheel, the iPhone and iPad had a multi-touch approach, and the Apple Watch had the Digital Crown. Now, the company is hoping that its next product will follow the lead with its sci-fi interface.