Maybe Even an Apple Headset Can’t Rescue AR From Its Mundane Future—Here's Why

Who wants to augment their reality anyway?

  • Apple is on track to launch an AR headset this year. 
  • The launch is expected despite the company having problems with hardware, software, and marketing. 
  • AR and VR solve problems we already solved with phones.
Closeup on a virtual reality headset.

James Yarema / Unsplash

In a surprise twist to the Apple AR story, Apple plans to introduce its headset this year, but when you hear the details, you might wonder why. 

Apple's long-rumored augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) headset will, according to well-sourced Apple reporter Mark Gurman, finally show up this year, and headsets are already in the hands (or on the faces) of select developers. But even if this is the best headset ever, and even if Apple delivers it for less than the $2,000-$3,000 expected price, will anybody want one? After all, most of the projected uses are surprisingly mundane.

"AR offers advantages to both education and industry—it can bring student's textbooks to life, improve the guidance of maintenance workers by projecting instructions straight onto the equipment, or allow airline pilots to quickly overlay navigation and weather data with the actual view outside the plane," technology expert Daivat Dholakia told Lifewire via email.

AR You Serious?

If this is a VR headset, then you can forget about it. VR is pretty much useful only for gaming and for specialist uses like pilot training or maybe medicine. No matter how small or light, or super-high-resolution an Apple headset might be, nobody is going to wear one during their everyday life. For a start, how will you goof off during Zoom calls if you can't glance down at your phone while you're supposed to be listening to the boss drone on about whatever, wha wah waaa…?

Even if Apple comes up with a video version of the amazing AirPods Pro transparency mode, with cameras that feed the real world back onto the eye screens, I have a hard time believing anyone will wear one as habitually as we carry an iPhone or wear an Apple Watch. 

The potential for AR... to disrupt the market is substantial.

AR makes more sense. This would be a headset that lets you see the world directly while overlaying graphics on that world. The end game for AR is to fit it onto glasses like we already wear. And some people are betting that AR will take off. 

"The potential for AR, specifically Apple's headset, to disrupt the market is substantial. AR headsets that facilitate participating in one's day, without monopolizing your vision as mobile phones do today, will hopefully reconnect people with their environment in a more seamless way and remove noise and stress caused by information overload," Eftychis Gregos Mourginakis, COO of metaverse enterprise company Mytaverse, told Lifewire via email. 


In his article about Apple's plans, Gurman writes, "While Apple still has many kinks to work out with the device—involving hardware, software, and services, as well as how it will be marketed and sold—the company is banking on the product as its hot new introduction for this year."

That's a lot of kinks. In fact, that sounds like the kind of product that is nowhere near ready. Software and marketing strategies might be more flexible, but if the hardware hasn't yet been finalized, then launching this year sounds like a sketchy goal. 

And again, one wonders what the point is. I asked several sources for examples of good uses for AR and VR that weren't gaming. They suggested virtually testing out furniture in a room, attending meetings or lectures from home, or visual overlays and translations of the real world while traveling. 

Someone in a dark setting using a VR headset.

Minh Pham / Unsplash

The thing is, our phones can already do all of this. None of these use cases requires the kind of immersion brought by AR and VR. Imagine you're taking a trip to a foreign country or just an unknown city. Would you rather pull out your phone to check a translation or look at a map, or wear a headset and talk out loud to Siri to tell it what you want? (Five times because there's no way Siri will understand you the first four times.)

Add to this the fact that our phones and computers are already glitchy and annoying enough, and the privacy concerns from every person you pass by in the street while wearing one of these things and pointing its cameras at them, and you have a recipe for ambivalence. 

I'm painting a negative picture here, but this is the kind of thing Apple is up against. Not only does it have to make an amazing device that can actually be worn and functions well enough to convince normal folks to buy and wear it, but it also has to overcome the problems inherent in AR and VR, which might be an impossible task. If it pulls it off, it will be spectacular, like the first Avatar movie. But more likely, it'll just be a virtual Waterworld.

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