Apple is reportedly preparing a wide range of apps and services for its upcoming mixed reality headsets, according to BloombergIt’s Mark Gurman. The company appears to be moving forward with plans to announce its first VR/AR headset at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
Apple’s mixed reality headset (rumored to be called “Reality One” or “Reality Pro”) can supposedly switch between virtual reality and augmented reality. It will focus heavily on gaming, fitness, sports, and collaboration tools. Customers who buy the device can use “millions” of existing apps on the headset’s 3D interface “with slight modifications” by developers. Additionally, Apple has reportedly been working with “a small number of developers” for months to optimize apps for the new product. Announcing the device months before launch should also give other developers time to create new apps or adapt existing ones for its futuristic interface.
Although many of the details of the product have been leaked before, a new tidbit in this report is its ability to run Apple Fitness+ workouts in virtual reality. (Imagine a virtual training where you feel like you’re in the same space as the instructor.) Additionally, it will reportedly support immersive sports viewing, taking advantage of the company’s broadcast rights to Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball, as well as its 2020 purchase of virtual reality sports startup NextVR. Likewise, the Apple TV application will allow you to watch videos in virtual environments such as a desert or the sky.
The report says the headset will have a productivity focus, similar to the Meta Quest Pro. “The platform will support your Pages word-processing apps, Numbers spreadsheet, and Keynote slideshow, as well as iMovie and GarageBand for video production. and music,” writes Gurman. It would also prioritize remote communication and collaboration, allowing users to see full-body 3D avatars of the people they’re talking to on FaceTime calls. Games will also be a main focus. That wasn’t always the case though, as today’s report says that Apple wasn’t paying as much attention to that space previously.
Gurman also reiterates previous reports about the headset, including a digital crown like the one on Apple Watch headsets and AirPods Max that lets you switch between VR (fully immersive, with no view of the real world) and AR (using cameras to blend your real environment and virtual elements). It would support running multiple apps simultaneously, “floating within the mixed reality interface.” It could also remember where you were in your physical environment, leaving virtual items where you left them. (We saw that feature as far back as the first HoloLens developer kit in 2016.)
The headset would also let you control it with eye gestures that determine where you’re looking and hand gestures like pinching to select items and navigate menus. In addition, it will have a virtual keyboard on the air and will support physical keyboards for a more tactile typing experience. Your home screen might look similar to the iPad with the familiar Apple Control Center for toggling things like WiFi, Bluetooth, and volume. Finally, it will support Siri voice control and use eye scans for security, acting as the device’s equivalent to Face ID and Touch ID.
Although the product will provide a robust feature set that will pique curiosity, other companies have tried similar things but have not yet been successful. For example, while the cheaper Meta Quest VR headsets have done reasonably well as gaming devices, the more expensive Meta Quest Pro, with a similar focus on mixed reality and productivity apps, has been a harder sell to consumers. And Apple’s version will reportedly cost around three times as much: a staggering $3,000. On the other hand, Apple’s history requires us to keep a somewhat open mind: there were MP3 players before the iPod, smartphones before the iPhone, and smartwatches before the Apple Watch. All of those competing devices had similar features, but they failed to capture the public imagination in the same way as Apple’s sleek and easy-to-use variants.
Even if the product targets a niche audience, it could serve as a consumer-facing transitional product that points toward an eventual pair of AR glasses that pass through a pair of regular prescription frames. Seen by many in the industry as the holy grail of mixed reality, such a device could be worn all day in the world, while the upcoming mixed reality headset expected in June would not.