A report at Bloomberg this morning indicates that Apple really is working on a VR headset, an effort which has been mentioned at least in passing since 2017. However, Apple’s design appears to be a precursor effort to an augmented reality (AR) product further down the road.
Citing anonymous sources, the Bloomberg story goes into detail about the design of the device, indicating that it will bear some similarity to the Oculus Quest in general functionality, a VR headset with limited AR functionality attached. Unlike the iPhone and other products which try to bring high tech and sharp design to the masses, Apple reportedly sees the VR headset as a niche product. Price per headset is speculated at anywhere from $300 to $900 USD, with expected annual sales only reaching roughly 180,000 units through their Apple Stores.
The headset’s design diverges significantly from other consumer VR gear in a number of ways. It reportedly carries a fan for cooling, which adds weight and could potentially increase the risk of neck strain. As if to compensate, the product exterior is expected to be fabric, a distinct departure from the typical metal and plastic of other Apple products. And the overall size of the headset is smaller than other headsets owing to the removal of space for wearers with corrective eyewear. Apple reportedly is working on a system to allow prescription lenses to be inserted in front of the screens, but the article points out this may be a stumbling block when dealing with wildly different regulations worldwide regarding prescription lenses.
Apple expects to release their VR headset sometime in 2022, with their AR headset coming out at a time to be announced later.
Food For Thought
Apple’s objectives here are rather murky. The Bloomberg piece mentions that they seem to be aiming more for AR rather than VR, noting CEO Tim Cook’s belief that AR is the more mainstream product. Yet AR products are even more niche than VR, and the price points of current AR gear makes even the high end of the projected price point for their VR setup seem like an absolute steal. AR functionality added into existing tech like the iPhone is one thing, but dedicated AR glasses are (at present) horrendously expensive, with the Microsoft HoloLens 2 coming in at $3500 USD. The report’s mention of a separate App Store for the VR and AR products, running what is referred to as “rOS,” is also potentially problematic given the current furor over the iOS App Store and the potential for mimicking Facebook’s requirements for their Oculus headsets. There’s something to be said for “thinking different.” But deliberately hobbling efforts to expand VR (and ultimately AR) to the masses proves “different” does not inherently equal “good.”