Right around this date in 2017, Bloomberg reported that Apple was working on a pair of augmented reality glasses for a planned 2020 launch. Now that it’s late 2019, The Information is reporting (and Bloomberg is largely confirming) that Apple is now planning to launch a combined VR/AR headset in 2022, following up with a lightweight pair of AR glasses in 2023.
Apple’s perpetually three-or-more-years-away headset plans have “a focus on gaming, watching video and virtual meetings,” Bloomberg reports, and now include a new 3D sensor that builds off of Apple’s existing FaceID sensor. A 1,000-person team inside the company—reportedly led by former Dolby Labs engineer Mike Rockwell and involving former Virginia Tech professor Doug Bowman—is still reportedly working on a completely new operating system for the headset dubbed rOS (reality operating system).
The market for VR and AR headsets looks very different today than it did back in 2016, when reports first started leaking out regarding Apple’s plans in the space. Back then, expensive PC-tethered VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were launching to a lot of fanfare but generally disappointing sales. Today, improvements in technology have moved the focus to cheaper “all-in-one” untethered headsets like the $400 Oculus Quest, which has reportedly sold a decent-but-uninspiring 400,000 units since its launch in May (a relatively poor showing when compared to other recent portable gaming-focused hardware).
On the AR side, Apple’s Tim Cook was largely correct when he said back in 2017 that “the technology itself doesn’t exist to do that in a quality way.” Since then, AR has remained a pricey enterprise-focused market. Bulky headsets from Microsoft and Magic Leap run for thousands of dollars and still have important limitations in field-of-view and image solidity. And while Apple’s ARKit API has helped integrate augmented reality into many iOS apps, using such technology on a headset is very different from doing so by holding a phone or tablet as a “magic window” in front of your face.
An additional three or four years of technological advancement could bring more significant changes to the space, especially with Apple’s considerable R&D muscle involved. But the market for both VR and AR headsets seems unlikely to mature much past the niche stage without some major advances in both software appeal, hardware form factor, and total price. We look forward to hearing more in two years, when Apple will probably be pushing its headset launch plans back to 2024, if current patterns hold.