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Apple’s mixed reality headset will be impressive but tough to sell, reports say

Published Mar 27th, 2023 6:50AM EDT
Apple mixed reality glasses render - side view.
Image: Ian Zelbo

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Apple is poised to unveil its first-gen mixed reality headset this year, which will deliver augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences. Two separate reports indicate that Apple plans to unveil the handset in June. Apple recently held an internal presentation where the company’s top 100 execs saw the device in action.

As impressive as the hardware and software might be, some of Apple’s top execs are aware that the AR/VR gadget will be a tough sell. Maybe even tougher than all the first-gen products Apple launched in the past, as Apple is about to enter a nascent market where all its competitors are struggling. The mixed reality headset lacks a must-have application or experience and will cost about $3,000, a price that’s much higher than most Apple products.

Apple’s bold vision for AR glasses

Most rumors detailing Apple’s mixed reality headset have offered the same claims. The device is a stop-gap gadget that will let Apple train customers on AR and VR experiences. Meanwhile, Apple will develop AR glasses that look just like prescription eyewear.

That’s Apple’s endgame and a device that could replace the iPhone. Or better said, the need to look at the phone’s screen, if that screen can be overlayed on top of the real world.

According to The New York Times, Apple’s former chief of design Jony Ive demoed such an AR glasses vision about five years ago. The exec “captivated” a room of the company’s top 100 executives. The concept looked just like a regular Apple commercial:

The video showed a man in a London taxi donning an augmented reality headset and calling his wife in San Francisco. ‘Would you like to come to London?’ he asked, two people who saw the video said. Soon, the couple were sharing the sights of London through the husband’s eyes.

The video excited executives about the possibilities of Apple’s next business-altering device: a headset that would blend the digital world with the real one.

Fast-forward to present day, and the mixed reality headset that Apple is about to unveil isn’t eliciting similar responses from the same room.

Apple mixed reality glasses render - bottom view.
Apple mixed reality glasses render might be the precursor of AR glasses that could replace the iPhone. Image source: Ian Zelbo

The first Apple mixed reality headset

The first Apple product to deliver AR and VR features beyond what’s possible from iOS devices is coming in June. It’s not just the NYT making such claims. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman offers the same launch estimate.

According to Gurman, Apple held a big presentation last week. The 100 highest-ranking execs attended the mixed reality headset-centric show at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino.

The same Gurman detailed similar presentations in the past, but this one was different. Apple chose the Steve Jobs Theater for the event, and then those in attendance headed to their annual offsite event. The demos themselves were reportedly in line with what you’d expect from an Apple event:

The demonstrations were polished, glitzy and exciting, but many executives are clear-eyed about Apple’s challenges pushing into this new market.

However, both NYT and Bloomberg deliver the same conclusion. Some of Apple’s top execs are aware of the issues. The $3,000 gadget lacks a killer app and will require an external battery. Bloomberg reports the battery needs to be replaced every couple of hours. Moreover, the headset might be uncomfortable to wear.

“Some internal skeptics have questioned if the new device is a solution in search of a problem,” NYT says.

Both reports compare the mixed reality headset with the first-gen Apple Watch. Apple wanted the wearable to be a mini iPhone, but it soon understood users had other ideas. Apple pivoted since then into making the Watch an exercise and health companion. The connection to the iPhone still offered access to apps and notifications.

The mixed reality headset might follow a similar trajectory. Apple might adapt the product as it learns from users.

Apple mixed reality glasses render - front view.
Apple mixed reality glasses render – front view. Image source: Ian Zelbo

What the Apple AR/VR headset can do

Apple will have to explain to users why they’d want to own such a product, Bloomberg notes. The device will lack a clear killer app, and it’ll feature limited media content. The NYT offers more details about the gadget’s hardware and software feature:

The headset looks like ski goggles. It features a carbon fiber frame, a hip pack with battery support, outward cameras to capture the real world and two 4K displays that can render everything from applications to movies, two of the people said. Users can turn a “reality dial” on the device to increase or decrease real-time video from the world around them.

[…] During the device’s development, Apple has focused on making it excel for videoconferencing and spending time with others as avatars in a virtual world. The company has called the device’s signature application ‘copresence,’ a word designed to capture the experience of sharing a real or virtual space with someone in another place. It is akin to what Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, calls the ‘metaverse.’

Furthermore, the NYT says the device will double as a tool for artists, designers, and engineers. It’ll track their hands as their draw in image-editing apps or editing VR films. Moreover, the headset will work as a high-resolution TV, supporting custom TV content.

Apple believes it will sell up to 1 million units, Bloomberg notes. Given the component costs, Apple will make little to no profit at first. Citing Counterpoint Research, the NYT says Apple will ship fewer than 500,000 headsets a year.

While both reports detail the same skepticism from unnamed Apple execs, the company appears to be moving forward with the project. There’s nothing to indicate another delay for the mixed reality headset. And Apple will probably unveil the AR/VR headset at WWDC in early June.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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