The drips of information about Apple's foray into augmented and virtual reality have been greeted with giddy excitement over the past couple of years – as well as some bewilderment over the rumoured $3,000 price tag for its AR/VR headset. Now it seems the device probably won't stand alone – you'll need another device to get the most out of it.
The latest rumours suggest that the Apple headset will leave much of the heavy lifting behind its AR/VR capabilities to another device – most likely the iPhone. That will make it a little like the early non-cellular versions of the Apple Watch, which required wearers to also carry their iPhone with them (see the best iPhone 12 deals available now). Wondering what all the VR fuss is about? It's the future of design, you know.
Mass production is predicted to be at least a year away, but a new report from The Information (opens in new tab) claims that Apple finished work on three AR/VR chips last year and that they're now ready for trial production. It suggests the Cupertino company's headset will be powered by custom 5-nanometer AR/VR chips. These would function better than third-party equivalents, offering improved wireless data transmission, compression, decompression, and energy efficiency, but they wouldn't have the neural engine necessary to power AI and machine learning abilities.
This means the headset would need to communicate wirelessly with a host device, which would take care of the computing duties required to display virtual, augmented, and mixed media images. The Information says the headset will have a CPU and GPU, however, so there's a chance it will have at least limited functionality on its own, but it would need to be tethered to another device to use its full capabilities.
The news would seem to make sense for a slim, lightweight "Apple Glass" device, but perhaps less so for a larger headset. Although it's yet to make any official announcement, Apple's been rumoured to be working on both. However, this latest rumour appears to apply to the headset, which would reportedly have an 8K display and a Lidar sensor.
A patent application (opens in new tab) for an AR "Display Device" was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office back in 2019. That mentions a "reflective holographic combiner" that would reflect light for the AR elements while also passing through environmental light.
It's still not clear who such a device would be aimed at, especially if the rumoured $3,000 price tag is accurate. Add on the cost of an iPhone as well, and it looks set to be one seriously pricey piece of kit. Considering that Apple charges £699 / $699 for a set of Mac Pro wheels, perhaps that's only to be expected, but it still makes it feel that this might be a product aimed at truly dedicated Apple obsessives who want to own everything Apple puts its name to.
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