Apple’s Mixed-Reality Headset Is Expected to Debut at an ‘In-Person Event’ This Year

Apple Mixed Reality VR Headset Concept Credit: Antonio DeRosa
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It appears that Apple is gearing up to unveil its premium mixed-reality headset in the coming months — provided it can hold an actual live, in-person event to do so.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple is “poised to announce a mixed-reality headset” sometime in “the next several months” — a timeline that strongly implies that it’s coming in 2021. However, Apple is also reluctant to make such a significant announcement at an online event, as it wants a live audience of employees, the media, and its partners and developers.

Gurman’s information comes as part of a piece discussing the fact that Apple is once again holding a virtual WWDC this year, since it’s not realistic to expect COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted to the point where it would be safe enough to hold a massive live developer event. Apple typically sees over 5,000 developers descend on the San Jose Convention Centre each year, and that’s a lot of people to put in one place before it can be sure that the dangers of the novel coronavirus are well behind us.

However, Gurman predicts that this will be the last WWDC held in a “purely digital format,” and that it will return to in-person media events by early next year, at the latest.

After all, Apple is a company that makes hardware products with a unique aesthetic appeal that it wants to delight its users with. Having attendees on-hand to actually see its new products up close and in person is part of its culture. Apple almost always has a hands-on area available to the media after the formal portion of its events have concluded, and it’s one of the things that many members of the press missed out on with last fall’s Apple Watch, iPad Air, iPhone 12, and MacBook unveilings.

In fact, it’s conceivably possible that Apple has held back on some of its new products designs for this very reason — or at least hasn’t been in as much of a hurry to get them out as it otherwise may have been. We’ve been hearing about MacBook Pro and iMac redesigns in the works for almost two years now, but a major new design would be considerably less exciting for members of the media who can’t actually walk up and touch it afterward.

Apple’s Mixed-Reality Headset

This is likely going to be even more true when it comes to Apple’s mixed-reality AR/VR headset, which is actually the first major new product that Apple has introduced since 2015, when it unveiled the Apple Watch (we think it’s fair to say that the 2017 HomePod doesn’t count as a “major product”).

As much as Apple is likely itching to unveil the new headset — in the very least it likely wants to get developers on board sooner rather than later — it’s likely to hold off until it knows that it can pack the Steve Jobs Theatre with an enthusiastic crowd, and that’s simply not going to be happening in the near future.

Some have speculated that it might be coming at WWDC21, but certainly Gurman’s comments — which make total sense to us as well — suggest that’s very unlikely.

Perhaps it would have happened in an alternate reality where WWDC21 was still being held as a live event, since WWDC is the logical place to announce a groundbreaking new device that Apple will want developers to embrace, but Apple almost certainly places a higher priority on how it debuts such a significant new product, rather than when.

Note that none of this means that the Apple headset will actually be released this year. Most reports have suggested that won’t happen until 2022, at the very soonest. However, much like Apple did with the original iPhone, the Apple Watch, and even the HomePod, it will very likely announce the product well before it goes on sale. As a new product category, Apple doesn’t need to worry about it cannibalizing the sales of any existing products, so pre-announcing it will help to build anticipation as well as giving developers time to prepare.

This is why a WWDC announcement for a product like the mixed-reality headset would normally make a lot of sense. It’s not just about Apple showing it off, but rather getting it out in the open so that it can start offering sessions during the conference that help prepare developers to build apps for the new device.

Apple’s Reopening Timeline

Gurman notes that Apple is “working faster than most tech companies,” to try to get its engineers back on site, which is understandable considering that it makes hardware products that need hands-on work and testing in special facilities.

Working from home has some benefits, but a car, the next iPhone, future smart speakers and new earbuds can’t be designed, engineered and tested from a kitchen table.

Mark Gurman

Other big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are much more focused on software, and therefore have the luxury of letting their employees continue to work from home. That’s not really an option for Apple if it wants to get things back on track, and in fact we may never even fully realize how many projects may have been delayed because Apple’s engineers just couldn’t work nearly as efficiently from home as they can on-site.

[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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