There have been enough rumours and reports of Apple’s ambitions in augmented reality to keep our heads spinning in terms of trying to figure out what Apple is working on, which could be anything from a set of eyewear akin to Google Glass to a more ambitious Oculus Rift style headset for gamers.
Of course, it’s also possible that Apple is working on both concepts — it certainly has the resources to explore many different avenues in order to develop best-of-breed products in more than one category, and the many seemingly-conflicting rumours of its highly-anticipated AR glasses could easily be conflating different products. We’ve already seen it happen with Apple’s second-generation AirPods and new AirPods Pro, not to mention the still somewhat mysterious 16-inch MacBook Pro.
While many of the reports have suggested a more traditional style of glasses — it really does seem much more like Apple’s style after all — there’s also mounting evidence that Apple is looking to do something more serious for gaming, which might need to be more immersive than a set of eyeglasses is likely to allow.
First there’s the addition of leading virtual reality engineers to Apple’s team, including one of the creators of Microsoft’s Xbox, plus its acquisitions of companies that specialize in gaming and virtual reality motion technology.
Then there’s Apple’s actual push into gaming via Apple Arcade, which goes well beyond just a subscription service for stuff that’s already on the App Store; Apple is seriously bankrolling game development for Apple Arcade, effectively becoming a game publisher in its own right, and by all reports, indie game developers are loving it.
Contrary to the notion that Apple is setting itself up as a rival to Valve, however, it looks like it may actually be partnering with the competing game delivery platform to help develop its new AR headset, adding more weight to the idea that at least one of its projects will be an actual gaming headset.
This latest report comes from DigiTimes, which admittedly has a spotty track record when it comes to these predictions, since its information comes from the supply chain, rather than sources inside of Apple. However, according to DigiTimes’ information, Apple has entered into a partnership with Valve to “develop AR head-mounted display devices” and points to Apple’s Taiwanese manufacturing partners, Quanta Computer and Pegatron, as the companies that will be assembling the new headsets.
DigiTimes estimates that the new devices won’t be released until at least the middle of next year, which sort of lines up with other predictions which say they could arrive by July, although they only barely overlap; reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts that mass production could begin in Q4, with a July launch at the latest.
What’s interesting about this latest report is that it may actually provide some context for a report last spring that Apple had terminated its AR glasses project. That report also came from DigiTimes, but its latest information now suggests that Apple merely seemed to be shutting down its AR project based on the disbanding of its internal AR headset team in May, but was actually doing this because it was shifting from in-house development to a new partnership with Valve.
Augmented or Virtual Reality?
Even if Apple’s new headset is more focused on gaming — which isn’t necessarily a sure thing, despite Valve’s involvement — it appears that Apple is still very much focused on augmented reality, and not virtual reality. This means that it’s more likely tapping Valve’s broader technological expertise than looking to create its own version of the Valve Index.
At the end of the day, Apple has proven time and time again that it’s far more in the company’s DNA to do things that are radically different than what’s been done before. This leads us to believe that Apple’s upcoming AR gear — whether it’s “glasses” or a “headset” (if those terms will even apply) — isn’t going to be either a new Google Glass or a new Oculus Rift, but rather something completely different that builds on the best of both worlds.