Apple in less than two months plans to enter a new category of products, presenting its first mixed reality headset. Rumors suggest that upcoming headsets will support AR and VR technology, and will have a number of features that will dwarf competing products.
With the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, Apple’s hardware and software led it to dominate those categories just a few years after entering a new market, and the same may be true for virtual and augmented reality. We’ve rounded up 10 rumored features for AR/VR headsets that will set you apart from the competition.
Micro-OLED 4K displays
Apple plans to use two high-resolution 4K micro-OLED displays from Sony that are said to have up to 3,000 pixels per inch. Comparatively, Meta’s new top-of-the-line Quest Pro has LCD screens, so Apple will offer much more advanced display technology.
Micro-OLED displays are built directly on chip wafers instead of a glass substrate, allowing for a thinner, smaller and lighter display that is also more energy efficient compared to LCD displays and other alternatives.
Apple’s design will block peripheral light and the screen quality will be adjusted so that peripheral vision reduces the processing power required to run the device. Apple will be able to reduce graphical fidelity on the periphery of the headphones by implementing eye-tracking functionality.
Apple is equipping its AR/VR headsets with more than a dozen cameras, which will capture motion to translate real-world motion into virtual motion. It is said to have two downward-facing cameras to specifically capture the movement of the legs, which will be a unique feature that will allow for more precise movement tracking.
The cameras will be able to map the environment, detecting surfaces, edges and dimensions in rooms with precision, as well as people and other objects. The cameras can also do things like enhance fine print and will be able to track body movements.
For privacy and security, AR/VR headsets are expected to integrate an iris scanner that can evaluate the user’s eye pattern, allowing an iris scan to be used for payment authentication and as a password replacement.
Iris scanning on AR/VR headsets will be similar to Face ID and Touch ID on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It could allow two people to use the same headset, and it’s a feature not available on competing headsets like the new Quest Pro from Meta.
facial expression tracking
The AR/VR headset cameras will be able to interpret facial expressions, translating them into virtual avatars. So if you smile or frown in real life, your virtual avatar will make the same expression across multiple apps, similar to how the TrueDepth camera system works with Memoji and Animoji on the iPhone and iPad.
The 3D sensing modules will detect hand gestures for control purposes and there will be skin detection. The headset will support voice control and the AR/VR headset will support Siri like other Apple devices. Apple has tested a thimble-like device worn on the finger, but it’s not yet clear what kind of input methods we’ll get with the new device.
For text input, the AR/VR headset will support “air typing” functionality, and the headset will recognize fingers as they move using the built-in cameras.
BloombergMark Gurman’s Mark Gurman says airtyping is “finicky” but Apple will offer the feature when the headphones launch.
Slim and light design.
Apple is aiming for comfort, and the AR/VR headset is rumored to be made of mesh fabric and aluminum, making it lighter and thinner than other mixed reality headsets on the market. Apple reportedly wants the weight to be around 200 grams, which would be significantly lighter than Meta’s 722-gram Quest Pro.
In March 2021, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said current prototypes weighed between 200 and 300 grams, but it’s unclear if Apple was able to maintain that weight later in the development process.
external battery pack
Most AR/VR headsets on the market have a built-in battery, but Apple plans to connect the headset to a separate power bank worn on the waist. The external battery will power the headset for approximately two hours and can be switched for continuous use while a second battery charges.
The headset will run a new operating system called xrOS, also known as “Reality OS.” Apple is designing unique apps made specifically for a virtual reality experience. Apple is said to be planning a VR FaceTime-like experience with Animoji, where you might see a 3D Animoji or Memoji character version of a person instead of the person themselves. The aforementioned facial expression detection would allow the headset to read facial expressions and features, matching that in real time for a realistic chat experience.
Apple is working with media partners for content that can be viewed in virtual reality and will integrate with Apple TV+. Users will be able to watch movies and TV shows in virtual reality environments, with the screen on a background such as a desert or a mountain.
Sports content will be a focus, with Apple providing immersive viewing experiences for MLB and MLS content. Apple is working with third-party developers on gaming experiences, and there are 3D versions of standard iPhone apps like Safari, Calendar, Contacts, Home, Files, Messages, Notes, Photos, Music, Reminders, and more in development.
There will be a Fitness+ app that will allow users to exercise while watching Fitness+ instructors in 3D, and Apple is creating a meditation app that will guide users through meditative experiences. A camera app will be able to take photos, a book app will allow reading in virtual reality, and a version of Freeform will be available for working on collaborative projects with others.
The headset will also be able to run thousands of existing apps that are designed for the iPad, and the apps will appear in 2D format on the headset.
apple silicone chip
Rumors suggest that Apple will use two Mac-level M2 processors for the AR/VR headset, giving it more onboard computing power than competing products. Apple will use a high-end main processor and a low-end processor that will drive the various sensors on the device.
With two Apple silicone chips inside, the headphones won’t need to rely on a connection to an iPhone or Mac for power, and will be able to function on their own.
To find out more about everything we’ve heard about Apple’s work on AR/VR headsets, we’ve got a dedicated roundup that aggregates all the rumours.