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Apple preparing to launch expensive virtual reality headset that will be followed by smart ‘AR glasses’, report claims

·3 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Apple is planning to launch an expensive, niche virtual reality headset ahead of its widely rumoured AR smart glasses, according to a major new report.

The first version will be so expensive that each Apple Store might only sell one each day, and more similar to highly priced and high-performance products like the Mac Pro, for instance, Bloomberg reported.

It could arrive as soon as next year, the report claimed.

That could then be followed by the more widely rumoured smart glasses, which are still several years away from being completed, Bloomberg said. While the company had been targeting 2023 as a possible release date for that augmented reality hardware, it could take much longer than that.

Unlike those AR glasses, the virtual reality headset would include an “all-encompassing 3D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating”, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported, and it would only have “limited” options to use augmented reality features that put virtual objects on top of the real world.

That suggests the initial release would compete more with devoted VR headsets such as those made by HTC, PlayStation and Oculus, rather than the AR technologies that have been such a focus for the company in recent years.

But it would be vastly more expensive – and more powerful – than those rival headsets, the report claims. While those tend to be priced in the hundreds of dollars, the new headset could cost thousands, and would include better displays and processing hardware.

For years, Apple has been rumoured to be working on a wearable headset. It would be the first entirely new type of hardware since the Apple Watch, and build on the company’s recent interest in both wearable technology and augmented reality.

Rumours suggest that the glasses could look largely similar to traditional eyewear, but feature small displays that would allow information to be put over the top of the real world. Someone following map directions might see them flash up over the streets they need to turn down, for instance.

While those glasses are likely to prove much more mainstream than any kind of virtual reality headset, they also come with much more challenges. No other company has succeeded in bringing such glasses to the public in large numbers: Google’s Glass notably failed to catch on and was demoted to focus on specific working situations, a route which has been followed by Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headsets.

Clues that the company is looking to create something using AR have been present in Apple’s software for years. It has encouraged developers to create experiences that use the iPhone’s camera – and newer technologies such as the iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR scanner, which can sense depth – to overlay virtual objects onto the real world, for instance.

But those experiences have relied on Apple’s existing hardware. Chief executive Tim Cook told The Independent in 2017 that while the company does not discuss products it is working on, he did not believe the hardware to be ready for Apple to launch such a product.

“I can tell you the technology itself doesn’t exist to do that in a quality way,” he said then. “The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face – there’s huge challenges with that.”

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