Apple VR headset: release date, rumours, features

Apple VR headset: release date, rumours, features

Apple's much-anticipated mixed reality headset has been the subject of much speculation and rumor. While the details of the headset's release date and price remain unclear, here's what we know so far about this exciting new development from the tech giant.

What do we know about the Apple VR headset?

As Mark Gurman, the most knowledgeable Bloomerg journalist who specialises on covering Apple news, believes that Apple's VR headset "will be presented at WWDC 2023". This could mean that Apple will finally make its entrance into the virtual reality sphere on June 5th 2023, the date of this year's WWDC keynote, Apple's developer conference (see our dedicated WWDC 2023 article for more information about this year's event).

We should actually be talking about mixed reality (MR) instead of a simple virtual reality. According to Gurman, who was a guest on the iWeek podcast The Apple Week (episode 135, May 4, 2023), that's the phrase Apple uses internally. And here is how he defines it: "The two main realities are virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality is the one in which we are completely locked up. These are screens only. Augmented reality is what we see through transparent glasses, a bit like Google Glass. With information projected superimposed on what we see naturally. Mixed reality is primarily VR at its core, but with an integrated augmented reality mode. I call it false augmented reality because instead of using your eyes directly, through transparent glasses, you use cameras, which reproduce what is in front of you and this is what characterizes mixed reality, this possibility of switching from VR to AR, at any time". So that's what we should expect from Apple.

Although the technology to create augmented reality glasses like those featured in the TV series Vortex is not yet available, Apple aims to provide users with a mixed reality (MR) experience that goes beyond a simple virtual reality (VR) headset. To achieve this, Apple's headset will reportedly include over 15 internal and external cameras, as well as a variety of sensors to create a highly immersive user experience. In the following section, we will delve into the details of this groundbreaking new technology.

© AppleInsider

What are the functions of the Apple VR headset?

As in other areas, such as smartphones, Apple wasn't the first to introduce a VR/AR headset. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has been offering its Meta Quest headsets for several years, allowing users to explore its metaverse - a virtual 3D universe - but without truly convincing results. Gaming is the only area where they have some success, but we know that it's not Apple's favorite area. Will Apple be able to outdo them? It is possible, as whenever Apple enters a market, it doesn't do so lightly.

Although at present, it doesn't seem that Apple has a clear idea of the app or feature that will astound us all and convince us of the headset's usefulness - the so-called "killer app." However, due to the headset's extraordinary technical capabilities (as detailed below), we get a feeling that it could be able to do everything, even replace a Mac by presenting one or more virtual screens before the user's eyes, which are less encombrant than real screens placed on the desk! Or maybe this is wishful thinking for a technology that is only in its infancy. 

Nonetheless it is also anticipated that the headset will be able to run all the apps designed for the iPad from the beginning. One of Apple's strengths is its ability to think ahead for the long term. Apple has been working on virtual reality for years. It's worth recalling that iPhones have been equipped with a Lidar sensor capable of scanning a room or object in 3D for several generations. A file format called USDZ has also been created and is already in use, for example, in animated 3D renderings that enable users to view a new Apple device by virtually turning it around with their iPhone or iPad. There's even a free app called Reality Composer on the App Store, designed by Apple, that allows users to create their own augmented reality scenes. All the building blocks are in place... all that's missing is the headset.

© Apple

The Apple headset is expected to offer a range of features, including FaceTime conversations. The built-in cameras would capture facial expressions, making the conversation more natural than using a 3D avatar. The external cameras would also track hand movements, adding non-verbal elements to the conversation. Additionally, the headset could serve as a virtual tourist guide, taking users to famous landmarks like the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower.

For fitness enthusiasts, the headset could be used for virtual sports sessions with coaches in various categories. Instead of following the session on a TV or mobile device, users could find themselves rafting down a river, cycling in the countryside or even skiing down a mountain. However, one thing that is unclear, is whether or not the comfort pads of the headset will be removable for easy washing or replacement, as we can imagine that after vigorous use, they could get a bit sweaty. 

After a workout, users could enjoy a movie on a simulated cinema screen in front of them. Although it is unclear how the headset will deliver sound, inserting AirPods Pro in the ears would offer spatial audio which is perfect for movies.

What is the name of Apple VR headset?

Although it may seem somewhat trivial, the name of Apple's upcoming mixed reality headset is actually quite important, especially considering Apple's branding strategies. Initial rumours suggested the name Apple Glass, but this name is more likely to be used for a device that looks more like traditional glasses, however, this isn't expected to be released for another five years. The name that is currently being most frequently predicted is Reality, with two potential variants: Reality One and Reality Pro. According to Mark Gurman, one of these two names is likely to be chosen. 

Apple is unlikely to use the "i" prefix that was popularized in the late 1990s with the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. This trend was also evident in the naming of the Apple Watch. However, despite the numerous presumptions pointing towards the name Reality, it is impossible to say for certain until the official announcement is made. Apple is known for keeping its secrets well-guarded, especially when it comes to strategic subjects like this. 

As for the name of the operating system that will power the headset, it is expected to follow the same naming principles as other Apple operating systems. A possible name for the operating system is RealityOS, although according to Mark Gurman, the name xrOS is the most likely option. However, the guessing game continues until the official announcement, which is expected to take place on June 5th.

What will the Apple VR headset look like?

Once again, tech expert Mark Gurman acknowledged that the rumors surrounding the appearance of the upcoming Apple VR headset are mostly accurate. However, it may be more appropriate to describe the device as a mask rather than a headset, as it is expected to resemble a large ski mask. Gurman describes the design as having a curvy exterior with a headband that may incorporate the fabric mesh of Apple's AirPods Max headphones for support and breathability.

While some 3D renderings depict the device as significantly smaller than competitors like the Meta Quest, it is important to remain cautious, as these are only estimations and the final product has not yet been revealed. Additionally, Ming-Chi Kuo, another Apple leak specialist, suggests that the headset will have less than 15 internal and external cameras, with eight cameras facing outwards to capture the surrounding environment. Users may be able to control the level of visual transparency through a swivel button similar to the Apple Watch's crown, and the screens in front of the eyes will display both the real world and virtual objects or characters

© AppleInsider

According to Kuo, six additional cameras inside the headset will be focused on the user's face for innovative biometric functions, such as facial recognition for user protection. The internal cameras may also detect the direction of the user's gaze, allowing for hands-free control of the device. The screens in front of the user's eyes are expected to have 4K resolution for ultra-detailed visuals, with potential foveal rendering technology that will display the area directly in the user's gaze in the highest precision. This would reduce computing needs and improve the frame rate, minimising any possible motion sickness caused by using the headset.

One of the surprising features of the headset is that some of the internal cameras will broadcast the user's gaze to the outer screen of the mask. This allows other people in the room to see the user's eyes and interact with them naturally. The headset will not require a cable to connect to a computer or smartphone; instead, it will be self-contained with all the necessary computing power. The headset's processors will be derived from Apple's A series or M series chips, and it will be battery-powered. 

To keep the device lightweight and compact, Apple has chosen not to integrate the battery directly into the headset. This means that users will have to connect the headset to a power source via a cable. The cable will likely feature a magnetic connector, similar to MagSafe, to prevent users from accidentally dropping the expensive device. More details about the headset are expected to be revealed during the June 5th keynote.

What will the battery life of the Apple VR headset be?

The rumored Apple VR headset is designed to operate independently, but for how long? Rumours state that the external battery is expected to be equivalent to the size of two iPhone Pro Max glued together. This should provide around two hours of use, although it's uncertain under what conditions, such as in VR or mixed mode, and with the external display active. However, two hours may seem insufficient, especially if you want to watch a movie that lasts longer. Nevertheless it has been suggested that the device will have a mechanism for hot-swapping the battery. It's possible that the headset has a buffer battery integrated within, which could provide a few minutes of autonomy, just about enough time to replace the primary battery or reconnect the power cable if it were accidentally detached.

How to control the Apple VR headset?

Apple's VR/AR headset is expected to come without any external controllers meaning that all interactions with menus and objects will be performed directly using hand gestures or eye movements. The external cameras will capture the movements of the user's hands and fingers with precision, enabling them to manipulate virtual objects, type on a virtual keyboard, or select menu items by pointing and pressing. This is a departure from the approach taken by the Meta Quest, which includes two joysticks for object manipulation and menu selection. The sizing of the menus could be slightly bigger, considering that a finger is less precise that the click of a mouse. It will be interesting to see how this works. 

© Unsplash

It's important to note that Apple's emphasis appears to be on mixed reality rather than solely virtual reality. By keeping your hands free, you can manipulate real-life objects that are captured by the external cameras. This could include typing on your Mac's keyboard to naturally input text on the expansive virtual screens previously mentioned, or accessing additional information overlaid on any object visible before your eyes. 

When is the release date of the Apple VR headset?

While the VR/AR headset from Apple is expected to be unveiled during the June 5, 2023 keynote, it is unlikely to be available for purchase immediately. According to a Wall Street Journal article published on May 12, manufacturing such a technologically advanced device would make mass production possible only in September. Nevertheless, it's a safe bet that a small number of handpicked developers already have it in their possession and that the result of their work will be used by Apple during the keynote to demonstrate the capabilities of the headset. A best estimate would be towards the end of 2023. 

How much will the Apple VR headset cost?

All the rumors surrounding Apple's mixed reality headset suggest that it will come with a high price tag, ranging from $2500 to $3000. This price range, which will likely convert to a similar figure in British pounds and Euros, will initially limit the headset to professional use. With prices like this, it could be a while until this type of technology is available to everyday users, but this will certainly be a first step in the right direction to make it more accessible. 

However, as we noted earlier, the price is justified by the incorporation of advanced technologies that the headset is expected to include. This level of sophistication explains why Apple spent at least seven or eight years developing it. It remains to be seen whether future models will come at a lower price point. According to Mark Gurman, the next-generation headset will not arrive until at least the end of 2025. It will likely be another high-end model, with an entry-level version following later that will be at least $1000 cheaper. It should be noted that the first headset is based on Mac level components, whereas the cheaper version is expected to utilise iPhone level components.

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