Why Apple's XR Headset Is So Last Year

AI's casting a shadow over everything right now

  • Apple is expected to release a mixed reality headset soon.
  • But Apple’s new gadget will have to compete with the buzz around AI. 
  • Some experts say Apple will integrate AI into the headset. 
Someone wearing a virtual reality headset that has a wire running from it out of the picture.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Virtual reality, we hardly knew you. 

If Apple unveils its long-expected mixed reality headset next month, experts say the company will have to fight perceptions that artificial reality (AI) is the hot new area in tech. Meta and other VR companies have stumbled in their efforts to make VR headsets popular. Meanwhile, companies like Google and Microsoft are racing to release AI products

"AI is consuming a lot of airtime as the buzzword of the day and is only the current model on the media-darling catwalk until its own bubble bursts," Paul Tomlinson, a virtual reality expert at the tech firm Mural told Lifewire in an email interview. "It's easier to get into than a headset, and for all the noise of its throngs, there are some genuine gems emerging from the gold rush."

Is Apple Coming to VR Too Late?

Apple is reportedly working on a mixed-reality headset combining virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) features in one device. The headset, which may be called Reality Pro or Reality One, is expected to launch later this year and offer a premium experience that will far exceed the capabilities of rival headsets.

Mixed reality is a term that describes the blending of digital and physical worlds. Unlike virtual reality, which immerses the user in a completely artificial environment, mixed reality allows the user to see and interact with real and virtual objects. 

But mixed reality may have difficulty competing with the real thing, Tomlinson said.

"Apple's biggest challenge is proving to the public that the technology matters, not just because of the burst of the 'metaverse' bubble, but because VR's most entrenched competitor is Actual Reality (which happens to be free, or at least $3000 cheaper)," Tomlinson said. "Their product will have to connect people to each other, and to ideas and content, better than other hardware and services are able to do, and at a rate which justifies wearing it on one's face."

Apple's headset will resemble a pair of ski goggles, fully enclosing the user's eyes. In addition, the device will have exterior cameras and sensors for color passthrough and augmented reality functionality. The headset will also have ultra-high-resolution displays, vision and hand tracking, in-air typing, and unique technology to work well with Apple's AirPods wireless headphones.

Apple is frankly in a perfect position to lean as hard into AI as it wants to.

The new headset is also expected to have an external battery pack that will be the size of something that fits in one hand. And the battery pack may have a digital crown letting the user switch between viewing the real world and virtual reality with a physical dial.

Apple's mixed reality headset is rumored to cost around $3,000, significantly higher than other consumer VR headsets. The company may reveal its headset ahead of the Worldwide Developers Conference in June and start shipping in the fall. However, some reports suggest that Apple may delay mass production by 1-2 months due to some hardware and software issues. 

"I think Apple may be considered late to the game when it comes to VR," device expert Alvin Pullins told Lifewire in an email interview. "The metaverse is still a relatively new concept, and there is no consensus on what it means or how it will be implemented."

AI Combined With VR?

Despite concerns about AI overshadowing Apple's new gadget, some observers say that the headset will get a boost from advancements in AI. 

3d rendering of virtual human in VR headset with programming languages in the background .

monsitj / Getty Images

"Apple has been investing in purpose-built, on-device and privacy-preserving AI/ML hardware in the form of its Neural Engine for years, building it into its personal devices," Neil Redding, head of product at AR/spatial computing company Auki Labs said in an email. "So Apple is frankly in a perfect position to lean as hard into AI as it wants to. They are actually highly complementary technologies."

Apple will include AI software in the new headset, Matthew Wren, the founder of VRAR Chicago, predicted in an email.

"Depending on what chip is being used in the headset, it may also be ready for AI features to be integrated that would make AI more accessible to non-developers and beyond the well-known tools like ChatGPT," he added. 

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