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Apple’s VR headset could be an appetizer for AR glasses – here’s when it might launch

Published Jan 21st, 2021 12:06PM EST
Apple VR headset
Image: Facebook

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  • Apple’s first VR headset could make its long-awaited debut as early as 2022.
  • Bloomberg reports that Apple is working on a niche, expensive VR headset that would serve as a precursor to more affordable and accessible AR glasses in the future.
  • The current prototype for the VR headset is said to have a fabric exterior, external cameras, high-resolution displays, and chips more powerful than the M1.

Rumors and speculation about Apple entering the world of virtual and augmented reality hardware have been floating around for years, but according to Bloomberg, Apple’s first VR headset could launch next year. Mark Gurman reports that Apple is currently working on a virtual reality headset which will be “a pricey, niche precursor” to the full-featured augmented reality glasses that it plans to release further down the line.

Bloomberg says that Apple’s headset “will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating.” There will be AR functionality as well, but it will be limited, especially compared to the AR device Apple plans to debut in the future. The headset will compete with the likes of the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive, but it doesn’t sound like Apple expects to topple any of those products.

As Bloomberg notes, we are used to Apple taking on an established consumer technology with high-end, marketable products of its own that usually end up dominating the competition. The iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods have each risen to the top of their respective markets, but the goal this time around is not to launch the “iPhone of VR headsets.” Rather, Apple wants to prep developers and consumers for its bigger play later this decade.

Apple insiders tell Bloomberg that the company’s first VR headset “will be far more expensive than those from rivals.” Facebook just launched the Oculus Quest 2 for $299 last year, while Vive’s premium Cosmos Elite headset retails for $899. This seems to suggest that the Apple headset will cost well over $1,000, and therefore, sales expectations are relatively low. In fact, insiders believe Apple may only sell one headset per day per store, and with around 500 retail stores, that would bring annual sales to 180,000 units. This is comparable to the $5,999 Mac Pro.

The headset, codenamed N301, is said to be in a late prototype stage, but it’s still early enough in the process that Apple could significantly change the device or even scrap it altogether. Apple wants to equip the headset with “some of its most advanced and powerful chips […] along with displays that are much higher-resolution than those in existing VR products.” Some of the chips in the headset are said to be even more powerful than the M1 processors that Apple just brought to the Mac. There will also be a fan in the headset to keep it cool.

Current prototypes are also said to feature external cameras to enable AR features and hand tracking, as well as fabric exteriors. Apple is now trying to figure out what content it wants to ship with the headset. It might have its own App Store, which would run on an operating system Apple has been calling “rOS” internally.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.