Rumors of an Apple-designed AR/VR product have rumbled around for years now, with nary a launch to show for it. New data, however, shed more information on the hardware than we’ve seen before.
Apple is developing a mixed-reality system that can track hand movements and show video of the real world to people wearing the device, according to The Information. It supposedly includes multiple 8K displays, advanced hand and eye-tracking, and more than a dozen cameras.
The price? A low, low, $3,000, as compared to the HoloLens 2, at $3,500. The scuttlebutt is that Apple is positioning this product more as a competitor to Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 as opposed to a consumer-facing product. Apple isn’t known for its affordability, but a $3,000 price tag for the described features might not even be a bad deal. One question, however, is what kind of battery life this type of device would get. The 8K panels, associated video cameras, and the multiple tracking cameras are all going to consume a fair bit of power.
We don’t know much about what the hardware is capable of, but Engadget reports it can track both hand and eye movements and has lidar sensors to measure distance between objects in the real world, the better to scale virtual objects. A shipping headset could arrive as soon as 2022.
Virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality — all of these technologies remain in relative infancy, and I’m not sure any firm has found the solution to driving adoption outside niche applications. Microsoft has kept HoloLens corporate-focused, and Apple would likely do the same with this product as well. Speaking of HoloLens 2, that platform has shown some signs of life — Microsoft recently announced a new “Industrial Edition.”
IDC’s forecast for the VR/AR market predicts 46.2 percent growth in 2021 and a compound annual growth rate of 48 percent from 2020 – 2024. Enterprise investment into VR is expected to account for a larger share of the total market than consumer within a few years, with the commercial segment growing from 38 percent of spending in 2020 to 53 percent in 2024.
There’s a lot of belief in the long-term potential of mixed-reality for drafting, 3D design, and architecture, as well as applications in museums and tourist industries, once those exist again. Google’s experience with Glass back in 2013 has proven to be the rare cautionary tale that stuck, and companies like Microsoft (and reportedly Apple) are apparently still taking the slow and cautious approach with introductions, with products aimed at the business space.
It’s unlikely that Apple would build a headset with significant consumer crossover potential, especially not given the company’s general neglect of gaming on the Mac. Tim Cook may have called augmented reality a “core technology” for the company back in 2016, but Apple hasn’t exactly made a name for itself in the field since then. At least, not yet.
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