It’s no secret that Apple is working on projects within both the augmented reality and virtual reality spaces. The tech giant is no stranger to developing a wide variety of popular consumer products, and it seems these are two upcoming areas for the manufacturer.
From the iPhone to AirPods, Apple’s premium hardware has been a mainstay for decades. That doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon, especially as it looks to broaden its horizons with tech it has yet to break ground with.
So what are these big new products Apple is heavily rumored to be working on? What are the key differences between its VR and AR projects, what does Apple hope to achieve with them, and when can we expect the final products to hit the market? Will they be two separate products or one that combines both VR and AR in one? Nothing is certain yet, but here’s what we’ve heard from leaks so far.
What is Apple Glass?
Apple has already made strides in augmented reality tech. Its official AR webpage boasts that the company has “the world’s largest AR platform, with hundreds of millions of AR-enabled devices, as well as thousands of AR apps on the App Store.”
Many of these apps make use of LiDAR technology, which is available on the iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max and some iPad Pro models. Short for Light Detection and Ranging, LiDAR employs remote sensing to scan and examine distances and depth. When LiDAR tech is applied to augmented reality, the device is able to “understand” its surroundings, and get a feel for distance and space.
Apple Glasses are likely to be the next big step in the tech giant’s AR innovations. It’s an ambitious concept, but the glasses could end up being the first in what may be a long line of wearable AR devices.
According to a patent, the glasses might not have their own independent display. Instead, the device could be powered by a companion iPhone. This would be an understandable first move: glasses that act as a headpiece for your iPhone to test the waters before Apple moves onto more confident projects like an independent headset.
Some analysts have jumped into the conversation in regards to when they think Apple Glasses will be available for purchase. Ming-chi Kuo, a trusted Apple analyst, stated the device will be ready in 2022 at the earliest. Tech analyst Jon Prosser disagreed, tweeting that the Apple Glasses will be available between March and June of 2021 instead.
What is Apple VR?
Apple has been rumored to have been working on VR technology for years now. All the way back in 2014, it was reported that Apple was working on and hiring for the development of a VR headset.
The virtual reality headset Apple is working on is rumored to feature an 8K display for both eyes, far higher than anything we’ve seen so far in other VR headsets. As one can expect from Apple, the headset is rumored to be expensive, and it may cost potential customers somewhere in the realm of $3,000 (about £2,200, AU$3,900).
It’s also said to feature eye-tracking technology. This will render only the part of the world the user is currently looking at. This should prove useful for saving on CPU resources, as the device will only render what is absolutely necessary, which will no doubt be a boon for those 8K displays.
In March 2021, more tanalising details about Apple VR might have been made public. This is when noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has previously pointed towards a $1,000 price tag and a mid-2021 release date for an Apple VR headset, received information that hints at as many as 15 cameras being built into the Apple VR headset for tracking.
According to Ming-Chi Kuo, eight camera modules will be used "to provide image-transmissive AR experience", six for "innovative biometrics" and the final one to scan the environment around the headset.
An artistic mockup of the design by The Information was tweeted out, based on internal renders from Apple, which gives us an idea of the physical design for the headset.
New: I’ve seen internal Apple renders of its mixed reality headset. It’s a sleek, curved visor with swappable headbands and over a dozen cameras. Artist mockup of the renders: https://t.co/KMuncsbr7b pic.twitter.com/0FF5G87bwiFebruary 4, 2021
As well as the headset itself, we're seeing more and more rumors circulating about how the Apple VR headset might be controlled.
Patently Apple has spotted a filing describing a potential controller for Apple's VR, mixed reality and augmented reality hardware ambitions, which describes a thimble-like device consisting of two rings worn on thumb and index finger.
These would be used to "track a user’s finger movements with reference to any surface, including, in some cases, the surface of another finger, the user’s palm, and so on.“ In doing so, it could be used to "provide input to an AR, VR, or MR application.“
No release date is set in stone for Apple’s VR headset. But Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo states in a research note that Apple might be looking at launching the wearable in the middle of 2022.
He also reveals that the price tag could be upwards of $1,000 – that's around £720 or AU$1,300, although as that dollar price is only a rumor those conversions could be way off.
Interestingly though, this isn't just an Apple VR headset, but could be a combination of both VR and AR ambitions.
According to Kuo, the headset will offer augmented reality experiences along with VR option, with the "video see-through AR experience" and virtual reality content will be provided by a micro LED display.