Apple plans to enter a new product category next year, launching its first mixed reality headset. Rumors suggest that the upcoming headset will support both AR and VR technology and will have features that will eclipse competing products.
With the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, Apple’s hardware and software saw it dominate those categories within a few years of entering a new market, and it’s likely the same will happen with augmented and virtual reality. We’ve rounded up 10 rumors about the AR/VR headset that will set it apart from the competition.
4K micro OLED displays
Apple relies on two high-resolution 4K micro-OLED displays from Sony, which are said to have up to 3,000 pixels per inch. In comparison, Meta’s new top-of-the-line Quest Pro features LCD displays, so Apple will offer much more advanced display technology.
Micro-OLED displays are built directly onto chip wafers rather than a glass substrate, allowing for a thinner, smaller, and lighter display that is also more energy efficient compared to LCDs and other alternatives.
Apple’s design blocks peripheral light, and the display quality is adjusted to the peripheral vision to reduce the processing power required to operate the device. Apple will be able to reduce graphical fidelity on the headset’s peripherals through the implemented eye-tracking feature.
More than a dozen cameras
Apple equips its AR/VR headset with more than a dozen cameras that capture movements to translate real-world movements into virtual movements. It is said to have two downward-facing cameras to specifically capture leg movement, which will be a unique feature that will allow for more accurate movement tracking.
The cameras will be able to map the environment and accurately detect surfaces, edges and dimensions in rooms, as well as people and other objects. The cameras may also be able to improve small print and track body movements.
For privacy and security reasons, the AR/VR headset will integrate an iris scanner that can read the pattern of the user’s eye, allowing an iris scan to be used in place of a password and for payment authentication.
Iris scanning on the AR/VR headset is 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 Meta’s new Quest Pro.
facial expression tracking
The cameras in the AR/VR headset can interpret facial expressions and translate them into virtual avatars. So when you smile or scowl in real life, your virtual avatar makes the same expression in different apps, similar to how the TrueDepth camera system works with Memoji and Animoji on the “iPhone” and “iPad”.
Thin and light design
Apple aims for comfort, and rumor has it that the AR/VR headset is made of mesh and aluminum, making it much lighter and thinner than other mixed reality headsets on the market. Apple wants the weight to be around 200 grams, which is a lot lighter than Meta’s 722-gram Quest Pro.
In March 2021, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said current prototypes weigh around 200 to 300 grams.
3D sensor modules recognize hand gestures for control purposes and there will be skin detection. Apple enables voice control and the AR/VR headset supports 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.
Mesh fabric behind the eyepieces makes the headset comfortable to wear, and there’s a choice of interchangeable Apple Watch-like headbands.
One headband is rumored to offer spatial audio-like technology for a surround-sound experience, while another provides extra battery life. It’s not clear if these will make it to market, but headbands with different abilities are definitely a possibility.
Unique app experiences
The headset runs a new operating system called rOS, also known as “Reality OS”. Apple develops unique apps specifically designed for a virtual reality experience. Apple is reportedly 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 facial expression recognition mentioned above would allow the headset to read facial expressions and features and match them in real-time for a lifelike chatting experience. Apple is working with media partners on content that can be viewed in VR, and existing services such as Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade are expected to be integrated into the headset.
A recent rumor of unknown reliability has indicated that Apple is working on a new version of the Messages app that could include a new Home view and Chat Rooms dedicated to virtual and augmented reality chat features.
Apple silicon chip
Rumors suggest that Apple will use two Mac-level M2 processors for the AR/VR headset, giving it more onboard processing power than competing products. Apple will use a high-end main processor and a low-end processor that will manage the various sensors in the device.
With two Apple silicon chips inside, the headset doesn’t need to rely on a connection to an “iPhone” or a Mac for power and can function on its own.
For more on everything we’ve heard about Apple’s work on the AR/VR headset, we have a dedicated roundup that sums up all the rumours.