Apple’s AR Headset Will Usher in the Next Generation of Computing When It Arrives in 2022

man wearing AR headset tapping on virtual map Credit: vectorfusionart / Shutterstock
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Everything we’ve heard recently suggests that Apple’s first AR headset is going to be a pricey, first-generation device that won’t be intended for mass adoption by consumers, but there’s also every reason to believe that Apple intends for it to kick off the next technological revolution.

The problem is that it’s expected to have so much power and technology packed in that there’s no way Apple will be able to sell it at an affordable price right out of the gate. Instead, we should expect an expensive first-generation product designed to get the technology out there so developers and other early adopters can familiarize themselves with it while Apple works on more ambitious augmented reality projects like the highly anticipated “Apple Glasses.”

At the beginning of the year, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman shared info from inside sources who said that Apple is viewing its first AR headset in the same class as the Mac Pro and doesn’t even expect to sell more than 180,000 of them in the first year — a far cry from the hundreds of millions of iPhones that it cranks out annually.

However, this is also because Apple doesn’t plan to cut any corners on the technology. We’ve been hearing all year that Apple is testing prototype chips for the headset that already outperform its M1 silicon, and it’s also hoping to pack in the highest-resolution displays ever found in a VR product. All this while also still making it as lightweight as possible.

The cost of the headset will likely come in around $2,000, according to Gurman’s latest information from earlier this month, and as we first heard last month, it’s not expected to arrive until late next year.

As Powerful as a Mac

Now, veteran analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is confirming these reports with a new research note that points to the same launch time frame that our sources have suggested, along with the Mac-like power of Gurman’s earlier reports. Specifically:

  1. Kuo notes that the first-generation AR Headset will launch in Q4 2022, possibly alongside the iPhone 14, although more likely afterward.
  2. The AR Headset will be powered by Apple Silicon, with a higher-end main chip that’s said to be “similar to the M1 chip” from last year’s MacBook Air and Mac mini.
  3. A second, lower-end processor will also be present to handle inputs from the dozen or more onboard sensors.
  4. The headset will include “at least 6–8 optical modules to simultaneously provide continuous video see-through AR services.”
  5. It will be a standalone device, meaning you won’t need an iPhone, iPad, or Mac nearby to use it.

While there have been reports that Apple once considered using an external hub to power the headset, that idea was overruled by Jony Ive, who insisted that Apple needed to build the headset as an integrated device — or not build it at all.

To be fair, the team originally envisioned the hub as an optional device to provide extra power and features when the headset was within wireless range, but I’ve still considered that bad design. It’s likely some of Apple’s other hardware and software executives also agreed, as it’s just not Apple’s style. After all, consider that one of the main selling points of Apple’s newest M1 Pro/Max equipped MacBooks is that they don’t compromise on performance, even when operating on battery.

Even so, some suggested that the AR headset would still function like the first-generation Apple Watch, requiring an iPhone nearby to handle much of the processing and data transfer. Reliable reports over the past year have suggested otherwise, however, and it’s safe to say that Apple’s silicon has easily reached the point where that really shouldn’t be necessary.

Most likely, any requirement for an iPhone or iPad will be simply to provide a user interface to handle things like setting it up and installing apps, not unlike how the iPhone interacts with the HomePod. It won’t be required to actually power the headset, however.

One notable area in which Kuo’s information differs from what Gurman said earlier this year is in the design of the headset for augmented reality. Gurman previously described it as a “mostly virtual reality device” intended to compete with the Oculus, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive, but from what Kuo is now telling us, it’s clear that Apple intends to go beyond that, making it clear that “see-through AR services” will be a big part of the design.

Not that it won’t also be a powerful VR device as well, though. Kuo notes that Apple plans to include a pair of 4K Micro OLED displays from Sony to support virtual reality experiences. This is where a cutting-edge M1-like chip comes in, as it’s expected to drive twice as many optical modules as the iPhone while supporting continuous computing at the same time.

Apple’s AR headset requires a separate processor, as the computing power of the sensor is significantly higher than that of the iPhone. For example, the AR headset requires at least 6-8 optical modules to simultaneously provide continuous video see-through AR services to users. In comparison, an iPhone requires up to 3 optical modules running simultaneously and does not require continuous computing.

Ming-Chi Kuo

The Future of Mobile Computing

As we noted at the beginning of the decade, Apple’s AR headset isn’t intended to merely be just another VR device for gaming. Instead, the company sees it as the next big revolution in mobile computing and expects that by 2030 it could replace the iPhone almost entirely.

What’s even more interesting is that the team within Apple working on these envisions them as the next big step in mobile computing, and suggest that in “roughly a decade” they could replace the iPhone almost entirely.

In his research note, Kuo echoes that sentiment, suggesting that the iPhone may only live for another ten years, after which Apple intends to replace it with augmented reality.

Apple’s goal is to replace the iPhone with AR in ten years, representing the demand for ABF of AR headsets will exceed at least one billion pieces in ten years. Apple’s sole ABF supplier, Unimicron, will be the leading beneficiary.

Ming-Chi Kuo

Kuo adds that this is also why Apple is working very hard to make sure the AR headset works as a standalone device, so it won’t be seen simply as an expensive iPhone accessory. The goal is to not only position it as an independent piece of technology but to grow an app ecosystem around it that’s entirely separate from the current world of iOS and macOS apps.

If the AR headset is positioned only as an accessory for the Mac or iPhone, it will not be conducive to the growth of the product. An AR headset that works independently means that it will have its own ecosystem and provide the most complete and flexible user experience.

Ming-Chi Kuo

The catch, of course, is that with more than a billion active iPhone users, Apple will have to sell at least a billion AR devices in the next ten years, Kuo says, which sounds like a pretty ambitious goal for such a paradigm-shifting technology.

While we could have said the same thing about the iPhone in 2007 (and many people did), it’s also fair to say that the iPhone was a “revolutionary evolution” of existing technology rather than something entirely new.

After all, when the iPhone came along, millions of people were already using cell phones. The iPhone simply improved upon that experience. It didn’t fundamentally change the concept of making calls, sending texts, or even snapping pictures with a camera phone — it just did those things significantly better.

The same can also be said for the Apple Watch, which took a concept that had been around for decades — the wristwatch — and dramatically improved upon it.

On the other hand, the AR Headset is poised to change the way we use technology on a fundamental level — it has no analog in most people’s lifestyles today — so it’s going to be very intriguing to see how Apple’s plans unfold in this area. It could be turn out to be the single most revolutionary thing that Apple has ever done.

[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.]

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