Apple’s AR/VR headset reportedly pulled due to ‘great pressure to ship’

stop me if you I’ve heard this before: Apple is building a mixed reality headset that will ship this year. The company’s MR (AR+VR) hardware is among its longest-running rumor cycles. Some (Apple Watch) have paid off. Others (that pesky Apple TV gadget) not so much.

The category doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion for Apple. The road to a successful XR play is littered with large corporate bodies and well-funded startups. The disappointing state of affairs is certainly not for a lack of trying. It’s also a whole new product category, something that doesn’t come along every day.

There’s an interesting conversation going on about how such a product would play into Tim Cook’s legacy, more than a decade after he took over as CEO. While Steve Jobs’ role at the helm of the company during the development of the Mac, iPhone, iPad, et al. cemented his position as one of the 20he/twenty-onestreet leading techies of the century, it seems entirely possible that their leadership’s suggestions about the product that would become the Apple Watch are somewhat overblown.

Regardless of any knowledge he may have had in the project’s infancy, Cook probably deserves most of the credit for introducing the product to the world. The same is true of AirPods, though it’s also arguable that those products were an evolution of Apple’s (and, perhaps, Beats’) existing work in the category. Smart home speakers also arrived under Cook, though it would be hard to frame them as a success on the level of the aforementioned products.

Over the weekend, the Financial Times published an article quoting an anonymous former Apple engineer, who noted: “They are under great pressure to ship. They have been postponing the release every year for the past. [few] years.”

In total, Apple has apparently been working on this product for seven years. At the very least, the above comment gives pause. It doesn’t seem especially certain that a company will be looking for the next piece of consumer hardware in the wake of a general slowdown in the smartphone market. There’s also a correction going on in the smart home space right now. Apple has completely dominated the smartwatch category, with around 200 million sold. Still, nothing seems close to matching the billions of iPhones sold.

Apple seems to have anticipated a slowdown in the smartphone market and has comfortably shifted the top revenue figures to its content game. As such, it’s fair to wonder if the hardware will simply take a backseat to the enterprise in the future. However, according to the FT article, “some within the company believe [the headset] It could one day rival the iPhone.” Much has been burned betting against Apple in the past, but the sparse state of the market provides plenty of reason to be skeptical.

Photo taken in Ghent, Belgium. Image Credits: Getty Images/Bram Van Oost/Eye Em

I met with the biggest players in VR at CES in January, and two things stood out. The first is the drive towards the company. Of the four headsets I’ve spent time with, only one (PSVR) is primarily consumer-focused. Magic Leap has gone all-in on business, while Meta and HTC are also leaning heavily. Makes sense. The consumer space is untested, and there is a ton of money to be made selling these things to companies.

“We really saw that there was value to be derived from AR long before the company,” Magic Leap CTO Daniel Diez told me at the show. “The feedback we were getting from them was that. It also gave us an idea of ​​how the product needed to evolve to be truly enterprise-specific, and that’s what you see in Magic Leap 2.”

The other part is that pretty much everyone I spoke to told me they were looking forward to Apple getting into the space. It is a kind of rising tide that increases the treatment of all ships. Apple’s entry, in theory, would create new market share, rather than reduce what already exists. Despite having been around for decades, it’s a fledgling category, to say the least.

Technology has been the main long-standing problem there. However, having played around with the existing generation of products, I can say with certainty that the big players are already doing some really impressive things here. If you haven’t tried technology since the days of Google Cardboard, do yourself a favor and find some headphones to play around with. The other bottleneck is the software. Apple’s entry into the field would help tremendously on that front.

Image Credits: htc

Many of the major pieces of hardware are also in place for Apple. Internal silicon is a big potential driver here, especially as the company has made huge strides on the GPU side of things. Given that this will likely be a major ecosystem game (because Apple), this could well be the AirPods’ spatial audio time to shine.

Naturally, the company does not comment on any of this. With the exception of a few key hardware flaws (MacBook keyboards, Studio Display webcam), the company waits until things are fully baked before releasing them to the public. Apple is known for taking its time: not being first to market and still managing to launch category-defining products. In the case of things like the AirPower wireless charger, Apple chose to scrap the project rather than deliver something half-baked.

The company told us at the time: “After much effort, we have come to the conclusion that AirPower will not meet our high standards and we have canceled the project.”

But an MR headset is not a wireless charger. For Apple, it’s a big part of the company’s future. While that just goes to show how important it is to get the product right the first time, it also shows why shareholders are probably growing impatient after seven years of planning.

Regardless of whether Apple needs a mixed reality hit, however, mixed reality seems to need an Apple hit more and more.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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