Apple Inc. executives unveiled a preview of its upcoming mixed-reality headset at the company’s board last week, indicating that the device’s development has reached an advanced stage, according to people familiar with the matter.
The company’s board, made up of eight independent directors and Apple CEO Tim Cook, meets at least four times a year. A version of the device was shown to managers during the last assembly, people said, who asked not to be identified because the meeting was private.
In recent weeks, Apple has also accelerated the development of ROS – short for reality operating system – software that will run on headsets, according to other people familiar with the work. That progress, along with the board’s presentation, suggests that the product’s launch may come in the next few months.
The headset, which combines elements of virtual and augmented reality, is Apple’s next big bet. It represents the company’s first major new product division since the Apple Watch in 2015 and will turn the tech giant into a new industry – now owned by Facebook-owned Meta Platforms Inc. Apple is looking for new ways to expand its device business, making up about 80% of annual sales.
Apple aims to unveil the headset later this year or sometime next year, with a consumer release planned for 2023. It marks an introduction to the Global Developers Conference in June, but potential delays due to content and overheating challenges, Bloomberg reported. The company declined to comment on plans for the headset.
Apple’s sales have risen, hitting record levels in recent quarters. But supply-chain snags and concerns about reducing consumer costs have weighed on the stock. Shares have fallen nearly 23% this year – part of a broader technical downturn – including a 2.6% fall on Thursday.
The iPhone maker’s board is usually the first group outside of Apple’s regular staff to see future products. When Steve Jobs resigned as CEO in 2011, a few weeks before the public announcement in 2011, executives showed Siri Voice Assistant on the Apple board.
The headset has an advanced processor – the equivalent of Apple’s latest Mac – as well as an ultra-high-resolution screen. Although the first model will offer both VR and AR, the company is also working on stand-alone AR glasses codenamed N421 for release later this decade. Unlike VR, augmented reality overlay digital information and images over the real world.
The current device, codenamed N301, has been in development since about 2015 Mike Rockwell, vice president of the company, led the project, which was overseen by Dan Riccio, former head of Apple’s hardware engineering division. About 2,000 employees of the company are working on the device as part of a team known as the Technology Development Group or TDG.
The group includes staff with former hardware and software engineering leaders for the iPhone, iPad and Mac, as well as NASA and key recruits from a wide range of gaming, graphics and audio industries. However, the department has been hit by the departure of some key engineers at Meta and other companies in recent months.
Bloomberg reports that the device development team works from the office in Sunnyvale, California, a few miles from the company’s Cupertino headquarters. The device has faced a number of challenges during its development, such as finding attractive applications and content. Technological hurdles include overheating and refining the device’s on-board cameras.
The company is working on an AR version of its original iPhone app for headsets, as well as a new app that will handle tasks such as streaming immersive content and holding virtual meetings.
Apple’s headset was originally planned for an unveiling in 2019, with a release coming in 2020, Bloomberg reported at the time. Apple later aimed to announce it in 2021 before releasing it in 2022, only to delay those plans again after 2022 or 2023.
During its development, the device faced pushback from former chief designer Johnny Ive, who did not believe that Apple should release a headset that would take people out of the real world. Ive, who left Apple in 2019, liked the idea of augmented reality-only glasses, but that product won’t be ready much later.
I rejected a plan to have both a stand-alone mode and an alternative for the headset, which would make the device more powerful if connected wirelessly to a processing hub in the wearer’s home. That plan was scrapped, and current versions of the device are the only ones. They include a more powerful variant of the M1 chip that appears on the company’s latest laptops.
In the early stages of developing mixed-reality headsets, Apple engineers tested their AR software on HTC Vive VR headsets. The development group also designed a scale-down headset that uses an iPhone’s display, camera and chipset, but that device was only made for testing and the company never intended to sell it, Bloomberg reported in 2017.
When the actual headset finally launches, the product is Meta, Sony Group Corp. And Microsoft Corp. Meta and Alphabet Inc. are working on unique AR specs for the future that will increase competition with other tech giants, including Google.
Meta is launching a mixed-reality headset next month that will be similar to Apple’s device. That product, codenamed Project Cambria, will cost more than $ 800, the company said. Apple’s device could cost upwards of $ 2,000, according to people with knowledge of the device’s development. Last year, the company believed it would sell about one unit per day at every Apple retail store.
According to IDC, the market for AR and VR headsets grew by 92% last year to 11 million units. The Meta’s Quest 2 headset is currently dominating the market, with about 78% of sales in 2021. The potential to enter this segment due to Apple’s marketing skills and product ecosystem will significantly expand industry sales over time.
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