Apple headset uses waist-mounted battery pack -- new details emerge | Cult of Mac

Apple headset uses waist-mounted battery pack — new details emerge


A virtual reality headset (not Apple's).
New details emerge about Apple's long-rumored AR/VR headset and how it will differ from competitors.
Photo: James Yarema/Unsplash License

After testing a version of Apple’s upcoming AR/VR headset with an internal battery, the company’s engineers have resorted to using a separate battery pack connected by a wire, according to a new report about the secret project.

Other technical details emerged Tuesday about the long-rumored headset as well. The cutting-edge device reportedly delivers a surprisingly short two-hour battery life. And it reportedly comes with an H2 chip to pair with AirPods Pro, a dual-chip architecture that supports more than a dozen built-in cameras, and an adjustable dial to turn VR on and off.

Apple headset: A wired battery pack?

The Apple headset is now being tested for high-volume manufacturing, according to a detailed report from The Information. The device has apparently undergone many changes during the prototype stage of development. So it sounds different from what we knew from previous leaks,

While early technical prototypes were wired into big bulky batteries designed for power tools, that was obviously never going to be the final design. Apple engineers wanted a design that integrated the battery inside the headband. This would prove a delicate balancing act between weight, size, heat and power. No one wants a bulky hot brick on the back of their head.

In a move recommended by Jony Ive, Apple’s former senior vice president of design, the headset has reverted to an external battery pack that clips onto the user’s waist. The cord attaches magnetically — just like the MagSafe connector on recent Apple laptops — so the headset doesn’t pull on your face if you snag the cable on something.

However, even with a separate battery pack, where weight is less of a concern, the headset reportedly can’t last more than two hours from a full charge. The battery is designed to be easy to swap out, though.

Very impressive specs

The high power consumption and bulky battery makes sense when you see what a powerhouse this headset will be. It comes with built-in speakers for sound, but if you want to use headphones for privacy, your options are limited. Apple designers tested ordinary Bluetooth headphones, but rejected them for being too slow. The headset apparently can only connect to the latest-generation AirPods Pro because of its integrated H2 chip. Apple will need to update other headphones in its lineup with the H2 chip for customers to use them with the headset.

The headset’s twin screens offer an impressive 120-degree horizontal field of view. That’s about the same as the center half of your vision — what you can focus on with both eyes. Compare that to 106 degrees from the Meta Quest Pro. (The golden number to hit is 220 degrees, the full human field of view.)

Each screen consists of a micro-OLED display sourced from Sony. They combine to make an incredible 8K combined image. That’s a higher-quality display with more resolution than Apple’s Pro Display XDR, miniaturized from 32 inches down to something that fits in front of your face.

Cameras to track body movements and surroundings

The device packs more than 12 cameras to track the movements of your entire body and where you’re looking. The cameras are in addition to an array of LiDAR scanners, short-range and long-range, used to build a precise 3D map of the environment.

In order to process the data coming from more than a dozen sensors, the headset relies on both an Apple silicon chip and a dedicated image signal processing chip. The ISP is reportedly much more powerful than the one designed for the iPhone and Mac. The chip transforms, combines and meshes the images coming from all the cameras and sensors into a single live image of the room around the headset’s wearer.

Engineers reportedly had to develop a custom streaming codec for the two chips to communicate. Nothing else could support the high bandwidth of data flowing between the two.

The headset also comes with an external display. It runs at a lower frame rate to save energy, like the screens on the Apple Watch and iPhone 14 Pro. This display uses the internal camera to telegraph your facial expressions to the outside world. This reportedly will allow people wearing the headset to still feel “present” to other people.

More on the Apple headset design

The headset itself combines an aluminum body with glass displays, like any modern Apple product. In order to save weight — important on any device you wear on your head — it has elements of carbon fiber, which would be a first for an Apple product.

Users can turn the immersive VR experience on or off using a dial on the side, which works much like the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch and AirPods Max. The use of an analog dial for this feature rather than a binary on/off button could indicate the headset supports an augmented reality mode in the middle with adjustable opacity.

To accommodate people with wider or narrower faces, the internal displays are adjustable in width. Small motors can shift them closer together or father apart. For people who wear prescription glasses, there are magnetically attachable lenses.

An earlier design featured easily swappable headbands, a la the Apple Watch, but Apple apparently scrapped that option. Now, there are two bands, according to The Information. One resembles the rubbery fluoroelastomer material of the Apple Watch Sport band. Another band, made for software developers, could potentially sacrifice some comfort for additional bug-testing features.

The biggest question: What can you do with it?

Engineers previously tested physical controls resembling a “wand” and “finger thimble.” However, Apple reportedly dropped those accessories in favor of hand gestures and voice recognition.

In classic Apple fashion, the headset is designed to play well with your other Apple devices. Like the Continuity features for Mac and iPhone, which let you use your phone as your computer’s camera or control your Mac from an iPad’s keyboard, the headset reportedly will let you pull a map off the screen from Apple Maps and lay it out on a table in 3D.

Video calling and education are two areas Apple is optimizing the device for. While Apple is not focused on gaming as a primary use for the headset, the company will allow the Unity game engine to power graphics on the device. This presumably will make it easier for developers to port their games from Meta Quest headsets, rather than requiring them to rewrite large portions of their code in Apple’s own Metal framework.

Headset users also reportedly can run apps made for iOS, although they appear in 2D.

When is Apple’s AR/VR headset coming?

Originally planned to launch last year, Apple’s headset continues to edge closer and closer to announcement. The company reportedly manufactured thousands of prototypes for one of the last stages of development: validation testing.

The price for Apple’s mixed-reality headset remains unknown. However, the report indicates it might start around $3,000 — significantly higher than other products on the market.


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