Until Apple begins showing their hand, there’s no way to know how far along they are into the development of consumer facing mixed reality devices.
Patent drawings and leaked information from Apple points towards an enterprise-facing headset to start that resembles the HoloLens 2 more so than the Meta Quest Pro–which uses video pass through viewing and hand controllers instead of see through viewing and hands free control like the HoloLens 2.
Apple has always been a consumer-facing brand, and ease of use has always been their biggest value to consumers over other brands. As mixed reality hardware developers continue to experience breakthroughs in the technology that make it more user friendly, the development towards consumer headsets will pick up speed.
For example, the HoloLens 2 was the first headset with the capability to operate without being tethered to a computer–a giant leap towards being able to wear this technology wherever we go. Of course the bulky feel of current headsets must be reduced in order for these to target consumer audiences, but the momentum towards this outcome continues to grow.
It makes sense for Apple to begin with an enterprise-facing headset with which they can continue to develop breakthroughs that bring us closer to consumer mixed reality hardware. Until they reveal what they have been working on, we won’t know how far into this race they have made it.
It is hard to say exactly. Every prediction so far has been incorrect. The latest rumor is an announcement at WWDC in June. This lines up with the long-time predicted release date for their first headset sometime in 2023/24. Apple's mixed reality will be exclusively manufactured by Pegatron, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturing company. Time will tell. But, with the release of Meta Quest Pro, It’s doubtful Apple will want to continue to drag their feet.
A legal firm that has represented Apple in many other trademark filings across the globe has recently filed trademark applications for “Reality Pro”, “Reality Processor”, and “Reality One”.
Most likely to be released first is the Apple Reality Pro mixed reality headset that will rival the Microsoft HoloLens 2, Magic Leap 2 and the Meta Quest Pro in the high end mixed reality device market.
The name most likely according to trademark filings and leaked code is RealityOS. However, more recent developments propose Apple has pivoted to the name xrOS for their new extended reality operating system.
Potential features include two 4K micro-OLED displays, 14 cameras, two main processors, eye tracking, hand gesture control, and object tracking. The headset is equipped with two processors: a main system on a chip (M2) and a video processing unit (ISP). The ISP is believed to efficiently stream and correct the distorted image captured by the integrated cameras, enabling high-quality mixed reality experiences. The low latency of this process is essential for smooth mixed reality interactions.
The headset will feature two ultra-high-resolution displays developed with Sony Group for VR, and external cameras for AR "pass-through mode," allowing users to see the real world. Custom lenses for prescription glasses will also be available. The device will have a "Digital Crown" similar to the Apple Watch, allowing users to switch between VR and AR.
The Apple XR headset is reported to be constructed from aluminum, glass, and carbon fiber, making it both lightweight and compact. Its power source is a waist-mounted battery that can be easily swapped out while in use. This unique design was reportedly created by Jony Ive, Apple's former chief designer.
They will most likely be similar to the Meta Quest Pro with the front glass, with a resemblance to a pair of ski goggles. Supposedly the outward-facing cameras are concealed better than the Quest Pro and the overall device will come in thinner and lighter than the Quest Pro, which weighs 722 grams / 1.59 pounds.
As reported by the Financial Times, Cook chose to proceed with the product development despite facing opposition from the company's design team who advocated for delaying the launch until AR glasses technology was more advanced. In contrast, the operations department favored releasing a mixed reality headset first. Ultimately, Cook aligned with operations chief Jeff Williams.
Early information suggests that the headset will cost around $3,000. This puts it at the higher end range closer to the prices of HoloLens 2 ($3700+) and Magic Leap 2 ($3,299+). The question is does Apple try and push the cost lower towards the Meta Quest Pro price ($1,499)?
It is likely that Apple will continue to operate within a “closed ecosystem.” In other words, they will continue to control software compatibility with their hardware in a way that will differ from other hardware platforms. That’s why it’s so important for organizations to have a mixed reality strategy that focuses both on Apple specifically, as well as other platforms.
When Apple comes out with their first headset–which is rumored to target enterprise customers–organizations should already have a strategy in place to immediately begin developing consumer-facing programs for Apple headsets. Why? Because even an enterprise facing headset from Apple will open the door for organizations to begin preparing for mainstream adoption of mixed reality.
Right now, Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 dominates the mixed reality market for enterprise solutions; however–assuming they are able to produce a quality product–Apple will in all likelihood corner the consumer market for mixed reality headsets. Apple currently corners the market for smartphones in the U.S., and depending on the quality of the product they are able to produce in mixed reality, it’s likely they will maintain or even grow this market share as mixed reality is adopted by consumers.
Apple's patent details a system that enhances video fidelity in the area where a user is looking and reduces the graphical intensity in their peripheral vision. This could help conserve processing power and extend the battery life of the Reality Pro headset.
According to a recent report by Nikkei Asia, Apple is deviating from its usual practice of relying on Taiwanese suppliers Foxconn or Pegatron for the development of its first-generation products. Instead, Apple is said to be partnering with Chinese company Luxshare for its upcoming mixed reality headset.
The report states that Luxshare has taken over the development team in Shanghai that was previously owned by Pegatron. Five anonymous sources who are familiar with the matter provided this information.
According to reports, the field of view for the headset is a generous 120 degrees, wider than the Meta Quest Pro's 106 degrees and significantly wider than open augmented reality headsets like the Magic Leap 2 or Hololens, which have a field of view of around 50 degrees.
Apple was said to be developing true AR glasses after the Reality Pro VR/MR headset, but plans for those may have been delayed in favor of a more cost-effective mixed reality VR headset. This is reportedly following the release of the first expensive Reality Pro model by Apple. We do not have a crystal ball... but, our best estimate is 2024/25 for when we'll finally see true AR glasses announced from Apple.
According to market research firm Counterpoint Research, it is estimated that Apple will ship less than 500,000 headsets in a year.
Mixed reality represents a major leap forward in computing by seamlessly blending the physical and digital realms.
Augmented reality solutions have already shown their potential to revolutionize many industries, and the future for this space is bright. With the continued development of mobile devices and wearable technology, AR solutions will become more accessible and intuitive, leading to even more widespread adoption.