Apple's Mixed Reality Headset Is Trying Way Too Hard to Be 'More'

Everything, everywhere, all at once isn't a good fit

  • Apple's AR/VR headset has an absurdly long list of features. 
  • Today, people expect devices to be general computing platforms. 
  • Even Apple doesn't seem to know what this mixed reality headset is for. 
Someone using VR Gear in a an office surrounded by walls of whiteboard.

Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

The features list of Apple's upcoming AR/VR headset is absurdly long. Maybe that's because even Apple doesn't know what it's for. 

Apple's product launches have historically been laser-focused. The iPhone was a web browser, phone, and iPad that you could touch. In his iPad presentation, Steve Jobs spent a lot of time kicking back in an easy chair, showing how the new tablet should be used. But its mixed reality headset, hotly tipped to arrive this year, seems like a product without a purpose. A list of features put together by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, an Apple reporter so well-sourced he could be on a plate in a Michelin-starred restaurant, is a kitchen sink of functionality that has no clear direction.

"The headset's feature list is certainly extensive, leaving one to wonder if Apple has lost its focus. However, this approach may be a blessing in disguise as it allows for greater flexibility and user input. Rather than prescribing what the device should be used for, Apple is empowering users to tailor the headset to their needs," software engineer Robin Salvador told Lifewire via email.

A Mixed Reality Headset for... Everyone

The tech world has changed a lot since the iPhone appeared in 2007. Steve Jobs famously told the story of three new products, an iPod with touch controls, "a revolutionary mobile phone," and "a breakthrough internet communications device." Of course, those were all just one product, and Jobs continued hammering the same message repeatedly. 

But now that iPhone is a powerful pocket computer and camera. For many people, it is their only computer. Today, people expect a lot more of a computing device. And that's one of two problems Apple has hit with its headset. 

The headset's feature list is certainly extensive, leaving one to wonder if Apple has lost its focus.

The first problem is that to appeal to a mass audience, the mixed reality headset has to be a general-purpose computing platform. Today, most virtual reality headsets are for gaming or for specialist industrial use. That's too small a market for a company like Apple. So, it seems to have thrown in everything from the very beginning. 

This is possible thanks to the way Apple reuses the same operating system across all its platforms. The Mac, iOS, iPadOS, the Apple TV, the Apple Watch, and even the Studio Display monitor all use optimized versions of OS X, which started out as a Mac-only OS. 

Instead of starting from scratch, Apple can build on all the features of its existing products. And in fact, it has been developing the headset's AR features in the iPhone and iPad for years. There's no need for a 3D-space-sensing LiDAR camera in the iPad, and yet there it is. 

It's a very powerful model, and it means that the headset can launch as a full computing platform, even if many of the apps look like they will be iPad apps floating in an iPad-shaped window before the user's eyes. 

But Why Should You Buy It?

But this also leads to Apple's second problem. If it can't decide what it's for, how can it sell it?

"Perhaps they're testing the waters and seeing how a more general product, as opposed to their more focused current product lineup, will do with their customers," Kyle MacDonald, VP at mobile device deployment company Mojio, told Lifewire via email. 

Four friends seated on a sofa, all wearing VR headsets.

FilippoBacci/Getty Images

According to Gurman's list, the mixed reality headset will run most existing iPad apps, have a new wellness app, focus on games, but also on fitness, and on video-conferencing, and on collaboration tools, and also on watching videos. And watching sports. And so on.

That's an impressive list and one which could end up appealing to a lot of people. On the other hand, with so many features, it's hard to concoct a focused marketing story. With its other general-purpose computers—the iPad, iPhone, and Mac—Apple focuses on hardware specs, with new software features added in yearly updates.

If the mixed reality headset is technically impressive, that could work. But people will still need a reason to buy yet another computing platform—especially one that is so inconvenient to use compared to phones, tablets, and laptops. 

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