Apple plans to release its first augmented reality headset in 2022, followed by a smaller device — a pair of AR glasses — in 2023, according to a new report from The Information.
Apple’s entry into the world of augmented reality has long been rumored, with many in the tech world seeing AR and VR as the next big platforms after mobile. But an exact entry date has been unclear, with some analysts suggesting a 2020 launch. Citing internal presentations made at Apple’s headquarters, The Information pushes this rumored timeline back to 2022, presumably due to difficulties in developing the technology.
As well as the new timeline, The Information’s report offers new detail about Apple’s AR headset, codenamed N301. The device supposedly resembles a slimmer version of the Oculus Quest, a virtual reality headset released in May. It has AR and VR capabilities, uses external cameras to map the user’s surroundings (including the outlines of people, furniture, and rooms), and has a high-resolution display to show information and blend virtual objects with the real world. Employees were told that the company would be reaching out to developers to build software for the headset from 2021.
“current prototypes look like high-priced sunglasses with thick frames”
After Apple has built this larger headset it plans to release a smaller pair of AR glasses. Unlike the headset, these will be designed to be worn for longer periods of time, with The Information reporting that “current prototypes look like high-priced sunglasses with thick frames that house the battery and chips,” according to a person who has seen prototypes. Apple has also reportedly explored lenses that darken when in operation, to signal to observers that the user is otherwise occupied.
On Monday afternoon, Bloomberg offered further corroboration of The Information’s report, noting that Apple “recently” decided to delay the release of its initial headset product from 2020 to the later launch timeframe. The combined AR/VR headset will “focus on gaming, watching video and virtual meetings,” according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.
Both devices will make use of a “new 3D sensor system” which is a more advanced version of the Face ID camera found in iPhones and the iPad Pro today. This 3D time-of-flight sensor will reportedly debut in a new iPad Pro due early next year, a prediction that has also been backed by Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, before making its way to the 2020 iPhones.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously said that he regards augmented reality as “a big idea, like the smartphone,” telling The Independent in 2017: “The smartphone is for everyone, we don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge.”
Apple’s AR glasses seem designed to fulfill this promise, with The Information reporting that senior managers have said they believe the device could supplant the iPhone in about a decade.
As the smartphone market matures, Apple and many other tech companies are looking to virtual and augmented reality as the next big tech platforms. The iPhone maker has been building up resources in this area for years, buying tech from smaller companies and dedicating more employees to the project. Rivals like Facebook, Microsoft, and Google have also been investing heavily in this area through projects like HoloLens and Oculus.
However, virtual and augmented reality have proved tough ground for development, with bulky hardware and disappointing user experiences stymieing growth. Just last month Google effectively ended its Daydream experiment, which used phones to power VR headsets, citing a lack of developer adoption and “decreasing usage” from customers. In this context it seems wise for Apple to bide its time rather than rush to market.
Update 4:35PM ET November 11th: The article has been updated to include details from a report published by Bloomberg on Monday afternoon.