Apple’s first VR headset could be an expensive disappointment


Apple VR headset could look like Oculus Quest
Apple's first headset could be around the same size as Oculus Quest.
Photo: Oculus

Don’t expect too much from Apple’s first virtual reality headset. A new report warns that Cupertino’s first stab at a wearable VR system, which could come in 2022, will be expensive with a limited set of capabilities.

The device is believed to be designed primarily as a “niche precursor” to more ambitious AR/VR glasses that Apple plans to launch later.

Rumors surrounding Apple’s first AR/VR glasses have been circulating for several years now, while rivals like Facebook, HTC and Sony have already established places for themselves in the virtual reality space.

Devices like the Oculus and PlayStation VR have proven successful, thanks to their ability to give customers a new and more immersive (albeit more expensive) way to experience games and other content.

The whispers have only built up excitement for Apple’s take on a AR/VR wearable, but should we temper our expectations? According to reliable Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, absolutely.

Apple’s first VR headset will be limited

Apple’s first headset, which could launch as early as next year, will focus mostly on virtual reality experiences, Gurman warns. And despite shipping with a limited feature set, it will still be wildly expensive.

“As a mostly virtual reality device, it will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating,” reads the report. “AR functionality, the ability to overlay images and information over a view of the real world, will be more limited.”

“The plans suggest that Apple’s first headset will be far more expensive than those from rivals, which cost about $300 to $900.”

The device could have some advantages. Gurman predicts it will pack displays with higher resolutions than those found in existing VR headsets, as well as chips that are even faster than the new M1 in the latest Macs.

Other features of the device, codenamed N301, include a built-in cooling fan and cameras that enable some augmented reality applications. However, it is in a late prototype stage now. The device’s final design and feature set remains to be finalized. Apple could even scrap it entirely.

Why would Apple make such a niche VR headset?

Apple reportedly doesn’t expect this device to be a revolution that changes virtual reality and augmented reality for the better. Instead, it’s designed to be a “precursor” to more ambitious products in the future. “Apple isn’t looking to create an iPhone-like hit for its first headset,” Gurman writes.

The company hopes that the headset will help familiarize fans, and indeed developers, with AR/VR before more consumer-friendly Apple glasses — which will be expected to sell well — are introduced later on.

“Some Apple insiders believe the company may sell only one headset per day per retail store,” Gurman adds. “Apple has roughly 500 stores, so in that scenario, annual sales would be just over 180,000 units — excluding other sales channels.”

The report notes that this would put the headset on par, from a sales perspective, with other high-end Apple products like the $5,999 Mac Pro.

Apple tackles ‘development hurdles’

One reason for Apple’s slightly disappointing approach to AR/VR wearables could be the “development hurdles” it has been tackling. The report reveals earlier prototypes were too big and heavy to be worn comfortably. Plus, a goal of accommodating prescription lenses is proving difficult to achieve.

Apple’s more ambitious AR glasses, codenamed N421, are said to be at an even earlier stage of prototyping, with a greater number of kinks to iron out. People familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified for obvious reasons, say that those are at least several years away.

Sources say Apple initially planned to create a secondary wearable that would offload the heavy processing to a hub in the user’s home. However, sources say former design chief Jony Ive squashed this idea, preferring a standalone device that could operate by itself.


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