Despite everything that’s going on in the world right now, it looks like Apple is still on track to release its augmented reality (AR) headset within two years, with its first iteration arriving sometime in 2022.
In an investor note released yesterday, veteran Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo shared some very interesting predictions for this year’s new iPad lineup, while also mentioning that he’s expecting Apple’s AR headset to launch by 2022, confirming another recent report by DigiTimes earlier this year.
While we’ve known that Apple has been working on something in the augmented reality hardware space for some time now — early rumours three years ago suggested a launch was imminent, although it later became apparent that they were still a couple of years out — the rumours gained a whole new level of veracity when Apple’s high-level roadmap for the product leaked out from an internal meeting last fall (it’s worth noting, however, that prior to that meeting, Kuo had predicted a 2020 launch for the new headset).
It also wasn’t until then that we not only got some solid clarity on Apple’s timeline, but also a good idea of what the actual final product will look like. In fact, according to Apple’s AR/VR team head, Mike Rockwell, the company is actually working on a two-tiered approach, with the first product expected to be an Oculus Quest style headset, followed up later with a product that’s closer to a pair of eyeglasses.
In addition, leaker Jon Prosser suggested the Apple could unveil its AR headset as soon as 2021, possibly at next year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, and while Prosser suggests he’s “going against Kuo” in this statement, it’s entirely possible both are correct. During the meeting last fall, Rockwell already suggested that Apple would be reaching out to developers starting in 2021, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for Apple to announce the product at WWDC 2021 so that developers could get their apps ready, while not having it available to ship until 2022. The Apple Watch and the HomePod were both announced almost a year before each of them were actually released, in 2014/15 and 2017/18, respectively.
It remains unclear whether these products are expected to be two iterations of the same product, or whether Apple may in fact be working on a full AR/VR gaming headset as a separate product lineup from more traditional glasses that would use AR to help users interact with the world around them. It certainly does seem likely that Apple would want to pursue both angles, especially with its investments in Apple Arcade and reports that Apple is also working on a Vive-like controller to accompany the headset.
That the two products are being released in sequence is likely just a matter of managing engineering resources and simply dealing with the easier version first. After all, VR gaming headsets have been done successfully, so Apple has a lot of prior art to build on in creating its own innovative spin. AR glasses, on the other hand, are more complicated to do properly and successfully, as Google demonstrated with its ill-fated Glass project.
Apple’s Debut AR Headset
Regardless of Apple’s overall strategy — and it’s still far enough on the horizon that timelines could shift — Apple’s initial augmented reality device is pretty guaranteed to be a full headset, and will therefore likely have fairly limited applications outside of gaming and possibly a few other specialized uses. It’s also likely to rely on an iPhone to handle all of its processing in order to keep the headset as lightweight as possible, although there are reports that it will run its own fork of iOS, known as ‘rOS’ (believed to be short for “Reality OS”).
This would be consistent with Apple’s typical strategy for wearable devices; the Apple Watch began as completely dependent on a paired iPhone, and as much as the device has begun to assert its independent, an iPhone is still a mandatory requirement to set up and configure an Apple Watch.
That said, the connection with the iPhone will almost certainly be a wireless one, and Apple is already rumoured to be working on a new short-range W-Fi standard that would allow for ultra-high-speed data transfers of things like 4K or even 8K videos between the iPhone and the headset, which may not include any local storage for such things.
While VR headsets have been done already, keep in mind that Apple has a long history of blazing its own trail by taking existing products and adding its own take and set of significant improvements to them, and various reports have said that Apple is looking into features like touch panels, voice activation, and head gestures as control methods, so we expect it will be the most intuitive AR/VR headset ever created, and Apple is also undoubtedly going to work to make it as slim and lightweight as possible so that it’s comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.
So while we’re not expecting Apple’s first headset to be an entirely new category of device, it’s clear that Apple is taking the time to do this properly, and we remain highly optimistic that the Apple AR Headset will break some serious new ground when it finally arrives in two years.