Apple’s VR headset could launch sooner, and that’s risky

Tim Cook has been pushing for Apple to launch its Reality Pro mixed reality headset as soon as possible, despite objections from the company’s powerful design team. The move raises questions about whether the device will be ready for prime time when it launches this summer.

The news comes from the Financial Times (FT), which cites a former Apple engineer as a source. This engineer reportedly worked on the headset project and noted that there was “a lot of pressure” on Apple to bring the Reality Pro to market after years of postponements.

Render Apple headsets. Ahmed Chenni,

According to FT, the delays and subsequent push to launch this year reflect a split between Apple’s operations and design teams. In fact, the sales claims departments were obvious from the very beginning of the project in 2016, citing “several people familiar with Apple’s internal discussions.”

On the one hand, the operations team wanted to launch a “Version 1” headset that resembles ski goggles and would allow users to “watch immersive 3D videos, perform interactive workouts, or chat with realistic avatars via an updated FaceTime.”

That didn’t sit well with the design team, however, whose members wanted Apple to wait until the technology was mature enough to launch augmented reality glasses. In the end, that idea was scrapped by Tim Cook, who sided with Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams and the operations team.

Gaining a foothold Ahmed Chenni,

The rush to announce the headset this year could mean that Apple wants to establish itself in the burgeoning mixed reality space as soon as possible, rather than waiting until it can perfect the tech and sweep away its rivals. That’s outside of the norm for Apple and suggests that its operations side is gaining power previously enjoyed by the company’s designers.

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In pushing the release date, the risks could be greater for Apple, especially if users feel the headset isn’t fully ready. It’s rumored to be an expensive, high-end device, and the FT claims Apple only expects to sell around a million units of the Reality Pro in its first year.

However, according to analysts at CCS Insight, this could capture up to 10% of the virtual reality headset market, which would give Apple the opportunity to expand the headset’s capabilities and appeal in the future.

That said, the one million unit figure might be generous – display industry expert Ross Young reacted to the news by saying one million units is “way too high” because Apple’s micro-OLED supplier has “so many cannot produce in a year”.

The Reality Pro will be Apple’s first foray into a new product category since the Apple Watch launched in 2015, so it comes with risks. With an announcement expected at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, we could soon find out if Tim Cook’s risk will pay off.

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