Jony Ive reportedly clashed with Apple exec over forthcoming VR/AR headset

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Jony Ive
Jony Ive, who left Apple last year, reportedly had strong views on Apple's VR strategy.
Photo: Vanity Fair/YouTube

Apple’s VR and AR headset ambitions fueled a clash between Apple Technology Development Group executive Mike Rockwell and former design boss Jony Ive, who left Apple last year, a new Bloomberg report claims.

The article traces the development of an Apple VR and AR headset to late 2015. It claims Apple dedicated up to 1,000 engineers to work on a project aiming to be the first major new product since the Apple Watch. However, the project has been subject to disagreements about its direction.

Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman writes that Apple is working on two devices. One is a project code-named N301, which would combine the “best of” VR and AR in a headset capable of overlaying augmented reality images and also being used for gaming and other VR content. The second device, code-name N421, is “a lightweight pair of glasses using AR only.”

Gurman’s report states that:

“N301 was initially designed to be an ultra-powerful system, with graphics and processing speeds previously unheard of for a wearable product. The processing capabilities were so advanced—and produced so much heat—that the technology couldn’t be crammed into a sleek headset. Instead, Rockwell’s team planned to sell a stationary hub, which in prototype form resembled a small Mac, that would connect to the headset with a wireless signal. In Rockwell’s early version, the headset would also be able to operate in a less-powerful independent mode.”

When will Apple’s VR and AR headset debut?

However, Gurman says Jony Ive disagreed with the idea. Ive supposedly did not like the idea of a headset that would require a separate, stationary device to work. Instead, he wanted an Apple headset that could work on its own, with all the tech embedded in the wearable. This “standoff” reportedly lasted for months. Gurman says Apple CEO Tim Cook eventually sided with Ive.

The device is now in development at Apple as a skunkworks project. Team members are supposedly “enjoying an unusual degree of independence” in an office in nearby Sunnyvale.

The device features “ultra-high-resolution screens” and a “cinematic speaker system.” Prototypes supposedly look like a smaller Oculus Quest headset with a mostly fabric body. Apple has not yet settled on a price point. Gurman says the company plans its own app store for the platform. It will be powered by Siri.

Bloomberg claims Apple could announce the first headset next year and release it in 2022. Meanwhile, Apple’s AR glasses will arrive “by 2023” at the earliest. This stands in stark contrast to a recent Jon Prosser report, claiming they could arrive as early as next year.