How the Apple Headset’s External Battery Pack Will Either Kill It Or Set It Free

Better to make it small now and wait for power requirements to shrink later

  • Apple's upcoming VR/AR headset will use an external battery on a cable. 
  • This will allow it to be lighter, smaller, and more comfortable. 
  • It probably won't put anyone off using it. 

Person wearing a led-enhanded VR headset

Brian Penny / Pixabay

Apple's probably-coming-soon AR/VR headset might come with an external battery pack, tethered by a cable, which sounds like a real pain but could be the opposite. 

A VR headset has to be comfortable, and to be comfortable, it needs to be light. By the sounds of it, Apple's headset will be a powerful beast, but even its power-sipping M-series chips need batteries, and batteries are both bulky and heavy. Apple's solution, according to serial Apple rumor monger Mark Gurman, is to separate the battery from the headset, tethering the two with a cable. And this might be the design decision that takes Apple's headset to a new level.

"I believe one reason why the VR industry hasn't grown as quickly as predicted is that the devices are challenging to use. Apple has built its business by disrupting the norm, releasing innovative products that simplify the user experience, and I hope they can do it again," DJ Smith, VR Expert and CCO of Glimpse Group, told Lifewire via email. 

Cable Matters

Silhouette of a person using a VR headset

Getty Images

Ideally, Apple would build its augmented reality tech into a pair of glasses, but to get there, we have to go through the big ugly phase, just like we did with iPhones, laptop computers, and iPads. One day, we may have AR glasses that seem as impossible as the AirPods did when they launched. But not yet. 

Perhaps the most important part of a headset, especially if it's designed for extended use, is comfort. Apple seems to have opted to make its headset as light as possible by taking out the battery. The battery pack will, says Gurman, use a magnetic snap to connect, combined with a twist-lock to ensure it doesn't disconnect during use. The battery pack itself will likely look like the existing iPhone MagSafe battery pack, only bigger. Battery life is expected to be a couple of hours. 

So, will this be a deal-breaker, or will it not matter one bit?

"The major drawback of a tethered battery is that the user has to spend more time setting up the product. Nevertheless, when someone uses a VR device, it's usually not a quick or casual experience. It means the user is preparing to use the device for an extended period, and thus, the extra setup time is not a significant limiting factor," says Smith. 

Apple could simultaneously own the market, and change the paradigm across the industry, kicking off the entire sector. 

Emma Ridderstad, CEO and Co-founder at Warpin Reality, agrees. 

"Considering the current state of mobile Mixed Reality devices, the pros of a tethered battery most likely outweigh the cons," Ridderstad told Lifewire via email. 

By taking out the battery, Apple can make this first iteration closer to its idea of the final product. It can be slimmer and lighter than the competition. Plus, do you really need a battery all the time anyway? For VR, you'll be in the same (physical) space most of the time. For AR, you may wander around the home or office, but I can't see anyone taking these things out on the street until they shrink to non-dorky sizes. 

In computer terms, it's as if the laptop came before the desktop, only with a huge battery pack on a leash, and then technology slowly shrank that battery until it was small enough to fit inside. 

Big Business


The battery 'problem' might even become an industry norm for a while. Apple often enters a field late, but then it utterly changes the status quo. Before the iPhone, touchscreen phones usually required a stylus and pressing hard. After the iPhone, all phones use glass multitouch screens in minimalist bodies. The same goes for the iPad: before that, a tablet computer was a PC laptop with the screen reversed, and the keyboard lopped off. And so on. 

Apple could simultaneously own the market and change the paradigm across the industry, kicking off the entire sector. 

"Apple's mixed reality headset is likely to increase the uptake in VR significantly, particularly for businesses and their workplace practices. Joining meetings and collaborating with others will soon become more even intimate beyond the Zoom revolution, and "coming into the office" will take on a whole new meaning," says Ridderstad.

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