The Next-Gen ‘Apple Vision’ Headset May Be a Tethered Device

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While Apple’s $3,500 Vision Pro is an almost absurdly unaffordable device for many folks, it’s been clear for some time that the company never intended for its flagship headset to be the sole device in its spatial computing lineup. The only real question has been when we’ll see a more affordable model and what form it will take.

Rumors of Apple’s work on two versions of its “Vision” headsets go back to early 2023, months before Apple unveiled the Vision Pro. However, once the premium headset was announced, it occupied most people’s attention, and few gave much thought about what else Apple was up to.

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Nevertheless, we kept hearing reports from folks like Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman that Apple was internally shifting resources to figure out how to build a cheaper model — reports that culminated last week when sources confirmed that the next-generation Apple Vision Pro had been put on the back burner to focus on getting the so-called “Apple Vision” out to market sooner.

Early speculation suggested that Apple might cut corners in several areas to reduce the costs of the headset, with an aim to get it down to a price somewhere under $2,500, but possibly as low as $1,500. That means it still won’t come cheap, but it puts the headset in MacBook Air territory rather than pricing it in the realm of a higher-end MacBook Pro.

In this week’s Power On newsletter, Gurman offers some more insights into where Apple might compromise to produce a more affordable version of the Vision Pro.

Gurman echoes some of the suggestions we’ve heard before, including the removal of the EyeSight display, which shows a virtual representation of the wearer’s eyes to provide a sense of presence when interacting with others. Last year, Gurman expressed skepticism that EyeSight would be on the cutting board since he felt it was “as core to the Apple Vision as a touchscreen is to an iPhone,” but it seems that Apple’s engineers aren’t ruling anything out as they struggle to get the costs down.

We’ve also heard mixed reports on the displays. Last week, sources said that Apple plans to keep the same high-res displays as the ones used on the Vision Pro while possibly removing some sensors and cameras. However, Gurman notes that Apple could “reduce the specifications of the internal virtual reality screens,” possibly by using a less powerful chip that wouldn’t produce the same visual quality in rendering the outside world.

In designing the new “N107” version of the headset, Gurman notes that Apple may also revisit an idea it considered early in the headset’s development: tethering it to an iPhone:

Prototypes of the N107 also have a narrower field of view than the Vision Pro. And the company is considering making the device reliant on a tethered Mac or iPhone. That would let Apple save money on the processing power and components needed to make the Vision Pro a fully standalone product.Mark Gurman

When Apple’s engineering team was first developing what would ultimately become the Vision Pro, team lead Mike Rockwell reportedly clashed with Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive, over building the device with a stationary hub that would be about the size of a small Mac. Ive strongly objected to that idea and pushed Rockwell to abandon the hub and stick with an independent mode where the headset would be entirely self-contained — even if that meant compromising on performance.

While later reports hinted that Apple might still tether it to an iPhone, some of those seem to have misunderstood the specs. For example, a fall 2021 report by The Information highlighted an “Apple AR” chip that would power the device, which fell far short of what would be needed to power the headset. However, it made the mistake of assuming this would be the main CPU; in hindsight, we now know that as the “R1” chip that exists to handle real-time sensor processing. The rest of the headset is powered by the same M2 chip used in Apple’s 2024 iPad Air and last year’s MacBook Air.

This ambitious standalone design likely delayed the headset by a few more years than if Apple had conceded on an external hub, but the wait was ultimately worth it for what we ended up with. Only time will tell whether the company can perform the same feat in a headset that it plans to sell for half the price.

[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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