Rumors have swirled about potential VR or AR hardware from Apple for years now. But today, The Information has published perhaps the most extensive account of what the company is working on, and it paints an ambitious picture. According to a source with “direct knowledge” of the device, Apple’s mixed-reality headset will contain more than a dozen cameras for tracking movement and showing real-world video to the person wearing it. It is also said to include two 8K displays, giving it an effective resolution that would far outstrip anything currently on the market.
Before digging into the details, it’s worth reiterating that this is a report based on images The Information viewed and details it received from a source at Apple. Even if all these details are accurate, plenty of things could change between now and a final product reveal, and it’s entirely possible that Apple shelves these plans altogether. Regardless of the project’s uncertain and unannounced status, this is the most detail we’ve heard about Apple’s VR and AR hardware ambitions yet.
The Information believes that the device is in the later stages of development and could ship as soon as 2022. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple’s first headset isn’t targeted at a wide audience — its price point is rumored to come in around $3,000. Given the hardware specs quoted in today’s report, that’s not unreasonable, but it’s clear that this is less a device for consumers and more a competitor to Microsoft’s $3,500 Hololens 2. That headset is focused on business customers more than something the average consumer would use.
Based on images of a “late-stage prototype” from 2020 that The Information saw, Apple’s headset is similar to a traditional VR headset in that it blocks the outside world fully and puts the wearer into a fully virtual environment; the cameras will be used to give a few of the outside world. In this way, it sounds like the headset can function as a true virtual reality device as well as an augmented reality option that combines real world views with virtual details. Those cameras will enable the device to track eye movements as well as hand gestures. It’ll also have LiDAR sensors, like those found on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro, to help measure the distance between objects in the real world and properly scale and present virtual objects in a real-world space.
The headbands for the device are said to be interchangeable and will include “spatial audio” technology, similar to what’s in the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. And it sounds like Apple is working on its own in-house chips to power its headset — no big surprise given that it makes the silicon powering nearly all of its hardware these days.
Apple has long been said to be working on VR and AR hardware, and today’s report backs up some details we’ve heard over the years. Back in 2018, CNET reported that Apple’s headset could include 8K displays, and a report from Bloomberg last month indicated that it would focus on “mostly virtual reality” and include external cameras for AR functionality and hand-tracking. With multiple sources reporting similar details, it seems we’re getting closer to this device becoming a reality — even if it’ll be too expensive for most people.