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Reports of Apple’s next groundbreaking product, its much-rumoured mixed-reality AR/VR headset, have been heating up lately, with reputable sources saying that it could be announced — and possibly even on shelves — by the end of this year.
Sadly, however, the rumours aren’t the only thing heating up, as a new report suggests that prototypes of the actual product itself are running hot — one of several challenges that Apple’s engineers are facing which could push the revolutionary new headset into next year or beyond.
According to Mark Gurman and the gang at Bloomberg, Apple had planned to officially announce the existence of the device as soon as this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June, but new development challenges could end up throwing a monkey wrench into those plans.
Sources speaking with Bloomberg have revealed that it’s been “harder to stay on track” as the team faces problems related to heat, cameras, and software development. With WWDC only about six months away, this could force Apple to push the announcement back into later 2022, in which case the headset itself might not hit shelves until sometime in 2023.
Of course, it’s never been a sure thing that we’d see Apple’s mixed-reality headset this year. It’s what many reliable analysts and industry watchers have been saying, but they’ve been wrong before.
Still, the consensus has been on a 2022 release for a while, and nobody has really wavered on that prediction — at least not until now.
It’s also pretty much been a given that Apple would want to show off the new headset at WWDC, if at all possible. This is going to usher in a whole new world of experiences for developers to capitalize on, and Apple will want to get as many of its developers on board as quickly as possible. WWDC not only offers an ideal stage for that, but also provides an opportunity for Apple to more effectively communicate the nuts and bolts of the new software platform.
Even if Apple were to achieve its goal of announcing the new headset at WWDC — which still isn’t necessarily off the table — it still doesn’t have to ship this year. For instance, Apple announced the HomePod at WWDC 2017, yet it didn’t go on sale until February 2018. Likewise, the Apple Watch was announced at Apple’s fall 2014 iPhone 6 event, but it wasn’t until April 2015 that anybody could actually get their hands on one.
An Ambitious Undertaking
From everything we’ve heard about Apple’s new mixed-reality headset, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the company has been running into problems getting everything to work properly.
From the beginning, it’s been clear that Apple isn’t just trying to build an iPhone accessory. It doesn’t just want the headset to stand by itself, but sources say that it envisions it as the future of mobile computing — a device that could someday replace the iPhone.
This means baking everything it can directly into the headset, without any kind of external hub, while also making it as powerful as a modern MacBook.
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Although Apple’s work on its own chips has made this a much more achievable goal than it would have been before, it’s still not going to be easy. The headset has to be compact and lightweight enough to fit on somebody’s head without causing neck strain, and comfortable enough to be able to wear for extended periods of time.
In fact, reports over the last year have revealed that Apple is building an expensive, premium device, typical of many of the first-generation entries in any of its product categories. It’s likely to have not one, but two custom-designed CPUs similar to the M1 chip, plus at least 6-8 optical modules to provide see-through augmented reality in real-time, plus at least two Sony 4K Micro OLED displays to power the virtual reality experiences.
According to Bloomberg, most of the thermal challenges are coming from the pro-class chips that are being used in the headset, at least one of which is on par with the M1 Pro.
Apple originally wanted to mitigate that problem with an external hub, but that idea was nixed by Jony Ive, who insisted that Apple wouldn’t release a headset at all unless it could be built as a fully integrated device.
Preparing for Release
Despite these challenges, Apple still appears to be preparing its supply chain for a release no later than early 2023. Bloomberg notes that even though it’s told most of its supply chain partners that the device won’t be ready until 2023, it’s still pushing some vendors to have units available by the end of 2022.
Sources also reveal that Apple is already building code for the headset into iOS 16, which will be unveiled at WWDC in June. This suggests that Apple could choose to share some technical aspects of the headset or its software, even if it doesn’t have an actual product to show.
However, as we’ve seen in the past, this doesn’t always mean anything. Apple added code for AirTags in iOS 13 — almost two years before we saw any related products. The same could hold true for iOS 16 and Apple’s new mixed-reality headset.
According to Bloomberg, however, there are now over 2,000 Apple employees working on the hardware as part of a unit rather cryptically dubbed the Technology Development Group (TDG). Mike Rockwell appears to still be heading up the day-to-day operations, while Bloomberg has confirmed this was the “new project” Apple’s former Senior VP of Hardware, Dan Riccio, moved over to head up early last year.
[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]