Apple’s XR headset is coming what we know so far

For months now, all the hype in tech circles is about artificial intelligence (AI). But an upcoming announcement from Apple could reignite the excitement for virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR).

Closely related technologies, often collectively known as extended or mixed reality (XR/MR), were the hot topic a couple of years ago. This was largely thanks to Meta’s Oculus Quest devices, which it successfully marketed as a bundle of affordable hardware and accessible software ecosystem.

This has played a large part in creating hype and excitement around the concept of the metaverse as we looked to a future where we would interact across online, digital spaces, and digitally augmented real-world environments in more immersive and immersive ways.

Since then, AI has undoubtedly stolen the limelight thanks to the arrival of ChatGPT and the explosion of interest in generative technologies. But even in the days of the Quest, Apple made no secret of the fact that it was working on its own headphone technology. Now, it appears those plans are set to come to fruition, with the first concrete announcements expected to arrive soon.

So, could this put VR and the Metaverse back on the agenda? And how will this generation of VR/AR be affected by the fact that AI now plays a much bigger role in our lives than it did, even just a couple of years ago?

Apple’s history with AR/VR

While it hasn’t released any hardware so far, there are signs that Apple has been interested in the space for a long time. He developed QuickTime VR in 1995, an early standard for using 360-degree images to create immersive experiences. More recently, in the last decade it has made a series of acquisitions which confirm its interest. These include AR startup MetaIO in 2015 and NextVR in 2020.

In 2017, it released ARKit, a platform for building AR applications that can run on its iOS devices, such as Macintosh computers, iPhones, and iPads. In particular, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has often expressed his interest in the evolution of technology over several generations, from the first earbuds to smartphone-based ones and later initiatives like Google Glass.

From this story, we can see that while he may not have seen the need to bring a product to market, he has always considered that the field of mixed reality technology will play an important role in the future of technology.

The Apple headset

While we’ve known for some time that a headset is on the table, the company itself has remained fairly secretive. However, since this is Apple, there is a huge community of fans dedicated to delving into whatever the California-based tech giant is believed to be working on. This has led to a great deal of speculation and rumors about what we can expect.

Fans believe it is likely that the headset will be known as the Reality Pro. It is also expected to carry a hefty price tag of around $3,000. That would place it in a very different category than the staunchly consumer- and entertainment-oriented devices Meta has launched. Like the company’s first computers, as well as its most recent Mac Pro and Macbook Pro devices, it’s likely to be aimed at professionals and creatives.

It is also believed that the launch will lead to the debut of a new operating system called xrOS. This will be the software layer the company uses to build its future VR/AR products, just as its desktop computers and mobile devices each have their own operating system platforms, MacOS and iOS.

It is expected to feature 8K OLED screens for super-sharp displays, and at the purported price, it is also likely to include Apple’s powerful M2 processor, which is used in its Macbook Pro laptops. The hardware is likely to track hand movements and eyes, thanks to a large number of cameras and sensors, allowing users to explore virtual environments in a natural and fluid way.

It’s also important to note that Apple’s new headphones and accompanying xrOS operating system could pave the way for more consumer-focused AR glasses. Apple is said to be working on lightweight glasses that could blur the line between AR and everyday life, making the technology more accessible and inviting to the everyday consumer. Whether it’s browsing, shopping or even social interactions, such consumer-centric devices could revolutionize our experience with AR technology, embodying Apple’s unique blend of functionality, design and consumer appeal. Similar to how the iPhone transformed mobile technology, “Apple Glasses” could have the potential to redefine the AR industry, pushing it towards mainstream acceptance and usage.

Return to the Metaverse

It may seem that the metaverse topic has died down a bit, with everyone paying much more attention to the uses of generative AI rather than plans to build the next level of the internet.

This is just a natural evolution of the hype cycle that drives the tech discussion; however there is always something new and shiny that catches our attention. That doesn’t mean that the companies responsible for spending billions of dollars realizing these ideas are simply forgetting what they were doing 18 months ago.

The previous wave of excitement around virtual reality and the immersive internet was driven by Meta, as well as, to a lesser extent, the pioneers of the decentralized internet concept called Web3.

It’s certainly possible that Apple’s upcoming announcement and launch could bring it back into the limelight. A device of the suggested wattage would allow for much more impressive visuals and a smoother experience. Bearing in mind that previous attempts (including Metas) have sometimes been rudely compared to the level of graphical fidelity afforded by decades-old video games, this leap in performance may be all it takes to finally launch XR into the mainstream.

A key factor in this may be the rumor that Apple will enable both VR and AR experiences using the same device. Metas Horizons has, thus far, firmly established itself as a VR experience, while it has often been suggested that AR will be just as important as VR to the true metaverse.

Given Apple’s strong user base and its history of catapulting specialty products into the mainstream by reimagining them as elegant lifestyle accessories, it’s possible its arrival will generate a new wave of excitement around the concept of the metaverse, bringing AR and VR to play a more important role in our lives.

MR and AI A perfect match?

When we last got excited about VR, no one outside of a group of OpenAI researchers had heard of ChatGPT or the language models that power it. But to think of them as distinct and unrelated technologies would be a mistake. It is almost certain that Apple is factoring the implications of the emergence of generative AI into its plans for a new generation of XR hardware and software.

For starters, generative AI will make it easier to design and build the 3D worlds we’ll explore with our headsets, as well as immersive AR experiences that will integrate with the real world around us.

Being able to simply describe the experiences and applications we want to create in natural language will open the door for businesses looking to establish their presence and for designers hoping to create immersive environments for them to explore.

There is also the potential for AR and VR worlds to be populated by AI-powered denizens. This could include realistic simulated humans (or any other creature we can imagine) that we can interact and converse with as if they were real people standing in front of us.

It’s clear that a VR environment (or metaverse) is likely to be far more realistic and immersive than any other 3D environment we’ve experienced so far. Artificial intelligence can be used to generate realistic facial expressions and simulated voices and to allow 3D characters to behave and move more and more realistically. These AI constructs will also be able to speak in as many languages ​​as they need to, simply by being simultaneously translated in real time based on the linguistic preference of whoever is communicating with them. The implications for entertainment, education, business and industry are literally limitless.

How will Apple affect the future of AR and VR?

Apple doesn’t tend to invent new product categories, it brings them to the masses in shiny, glossy packages with an appeal that goes beyond early adopters who are early adopters into the new technology. We’ve seen this with their first Macintosh computers, the later range of iMacs and more recently with the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.

If the rumors are true, we can expect to learn the first concrete details about Reality Pro at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2023, starting in a few days on June 5th.

Apple’s major new hardware launches rarely disappoint unlike its biggest competitors, it’s not in a hurry to join each trend as it’s happening, but often bides its time until it’s sure it has the right project for the right market.

On the other hand, in today’s era, nothing can be taken for granted, and it’s fair to say that the emergence of AI has had enormous consequences that perhaps not even Apple has yet fully understood.

Time will tell if this could finally end his streak of innovative product launches. But based on his track record, it would certainly be foolish to believe that anything is a foregone conclusion.

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