Apple is reportedly on the cusp of launching its highly anticipated virtual reality (VR) slash mixed reality (XR) headset, after over seven years of development hell. The mysterious device could set the VR world on fire, or it could be one of the company’s most expensive and embarrassing technological blunders. In a new deep dive into the issues swirling around the device’s creation, Bloomberg’s Apple reporter Mark Gurman details the difficulties Apple faces as it once again hopes to “redefine” a hardware category that’s already chewed through billions of corporate dollars without much to show for it.
The alleged basics of the “Reality” device should give any hardware aficionado several reasons to scratch their head. According to Bloomberg, although it was initially supposed to be a pair of non-obtrusive glasses when it was first conceived in 2015, it’s grown over time into a device similar to what we use today: a headset that covers your face and resembles a pair of ski goggles. Even more surprising is this new report says it requires a separate iPhone-sized battery pack to operate. If that’s true, there might be some truth to the rumors that Tim Cook was ignoring Apple engineers who said the device isn’t ready and is pushing to launch the headset regardless.
Another odd feature is the headset reportedly has an outward-facing display showing the wearer’s eye movements and facial expressions. This lets other people see the person’s face while they’re wearing the device, kind of, and is supposed to allow for more interaction with others instead of the user being walled off from the world. The report says it’s so you can talk to someone wearing it without feeling like you’re talking to a robot. This, of course, envisions a scenario where you wear it around all the time, which is not something that typically happens with these devices.
It’s both the hardware itself and a lukewarm market for them that gives some insiders reasons to doubt Apple’s strategy. A former Apple marketing executive who’s now a consultant told Bloomberg they have doubts about its viability, warning it could be “one of the great tech flops of all time.” The notion of the metaverse has aged poorly in the past year and has now seemingly been abandoned by pretty much every company that touted its benefits just a year ago.
This render of the device shows the iPhone-sized battery pack, which is very unlike Apple.
If anyone can pull off an upset in this category, it’s Apple. The company is known for setting the standard for hardware in markets it enters, and it’s already been reported Apple has developed a novel handoff method when using multiple devices. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has also expressed his admiration for Apple’s hardware, saying he got to test an early version and was impressed. Since it’s Apple, we have to give it the benefit of the doubt, given its resources and engineering pedigree.
For now, all eyes will be on Tim Cook next month when he takes the stage at the WWDC event to unveil it. As Yahoo notes, it is the most anticipated announcement from the company in a long time. The device, which is largely expected to be named the Reality Pro, will either cement his legacy or stain his stellar record as CEO, three-device charging mat aside.