Apple to make a plain old VR headset before its fancy AR glasses

For years, we’ve been hearing rumors Apple is working on some kind of fanciful AR glasses — the futuristic kind that might look like regular old lenses. And while those are apparently still on the way, the company is reportedly settling for a more boring “mostly virtual reality” device to start, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Apple is planning to launch the headset, codenamed N301, as soon as 2022. It’s expected to compete against existing products like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, although it’s expected to be much more expensive. It’s described as an immersive, multipurpose device for gaming, videos, and communication.

There will be some AR functionality, allowing you to overlay images over the real world, but the report says this aspect will be “limited.”

Current prototypes of the device are about the size of the Oculus Quest, and Apple has reportedly created a system that allows you to use prescription lenses in the headset rather than trying to wear it over your glasses. In terms of performance, prototypes have included a processor that outperforms the new M1 chip.

As noted by Bloomberg, the company normally likes to enter a new category by taking trending technology and simplifying it for the mainstream, but this time, “Apple isn’t looking to create an iPhone-like hit for its first headset.” The VR headset instead appears to be a taste of things to come — a niche product for early adopters and developers.

Granted, that’s actually not all that different from what Apple has done in practice. Products like the iPhone and MacBook Air may be revolutionary in retrospect, but it’s debatable whether the first generation products really justified those revolutions on their own.

After early adopters picked up first-gen products, it was subsequent hardware iterations that really refined the products into the game-changers they were. It seems Apple may be banking on that history to try and get its AR glasses right.

The glasses, reportedly codenamed N421, are still “several years away,” although the company originally aimed for a 2023 announcement. That said, I wouldn’t get my hopes too high for the VR headset in the meantime; the report claims there’s still a chance Apple could scrap the project altogether.

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Published January 22, 2021 — 05:31 UTC

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