A new report details how Apple’s AR/VR headset plans were altered significantly due to internal divisions. The report highlights that Apple was already a few years into its plans of developing an AR/VR headset when in late 2018, Jony Ive objected to some of its fundamental aspects.
The headset was going to be the first major product from Apple’s secret Technology Development Group led by Mike Rockwell. The executive was hired by Apple in 2015 who started building a team in late 2015 which grew into a 1,000+ group of engineers. The secret group was working on two products meant to completely change the AR/VR market codenamed N301 and N421.
A device code-named N301 would take the best of both VR and AR—the first an all-encompassing digital experience for gaming and consuming content, and the second a tool for overlaying information such as text messages and maps in front of a viewer. The other device, N421, a lightweight pair of glasses using AR only, is more complex.
The N301 device was meant to be an extremely powerful device with levels of power that no other wearable in the market could offer. However, this led to heating issues which ultimately led to Rockwell’s team deciding that they will sell a stationary hub with the headset that will do all the processing. This hub would communicate with the headset wirelessly, though the headset itself would also be able to work in a low-power state independently.
Ive did not like this idea and wanted Rockwell’s team to make N301 a standalone headset even if it meant compromising on power.
Rockwell pushed back, arguing that a wireless hub would enable performance so superior that it would blow anything else on the market out of the water. The standoff lasted for months.
Ultimately, Tim Cook went with Jony Ive’s idea and Rockwell’s team was asked to tone down the N301 headset to ensure it worked as a standalone unit. The headset is still pretty advanced with features previously unheard of from an AR/VR headset.
It’s designed to feature ultra-high-resolution screens that will make it almost impossible for a user to differentiate the virtual world from the real one. A cinematic speaker system will make the experience even more realistic, people who have used prototypes say.
The report details that the N301 prototype looks like a smaller and sleeker version of the Facebook’s Oculus Quest VR headset, but with primarily a fabric body. The team inside Apple is still testing the device on various head shapes to find the ideal fit. Reportedly, the headset will have its own store and focus on gaming, streaming video content, and also serve as a communications device for virtual meetings. Apple will be using Siri to control the headset as well as the glasses in the future, though prototype units inside the company are being tested with a remote as well.
Despite a few key members leaving Rockwell’s team over the last year or so, the team continues with its development work. Rockwell had said in a meeting last fall that the company could be ready to announce its first headset in 2021 and release it in 2022. As for the AR glasses, they could be released by 2023. Previous reports have also suggested that Apple’s AR headset could launch in 2022 and plenty of references to the device have been found in iOS 13 builds.[Via Bloomberg]