Tim Cook has pushed for Apple to launch its Reality Pro mixed reality headset as soon as possible, despite objections from the company’s powerful design team. The move raises questions about whether the device will be ready for prime time when it launches this summer.
The news comes from the Financial Times (FT), which cites a former Apple engineer as a source. This engineer reportedly worked on the headset project, noting that there is “great pressure” on Apple to release the Reality Pro after years of postponement.
The delays and subsequent push for the launch this year reflect a split between Apple’s operations and design teams, according to the FT. In fact, the claim divisions of the outlets were evident from the start of the project in 2016, citing “several people familiar with Apple’s internal discussions.”
The operations team, for one, wanted to launch a “version one” headset that would resemble a set of ski goggles and allow users to “watch immersive 3D videos, perform interactive exercises, or chat with realistic avatars via a revamped FaceTime.”
However, that didn’t sit well with the design team, whose members wanted Apple to wait until the technology was mature enough to release a pair of augmented reality glasses. Ultimately, this idea was quashed by Tim Cook, who sided with COO Jeff Williams and the operations team.
Gaining a foothold
The push to announce the headset this year could mean Apple wants to establish itself in the nascent mixed reality space as soon as possible, rather than wait until it can perfect the technology and sweep away its rivals. That’s out of the norm for Apple and suggests that its operational side is gaining power that the company’s designers once enjoyed.
By going ahead with the release date, the risks for Apple could be higher, especially if users feel the headphones aren’t quite ready. Rumors claim that it will be a high-end and expensive device, with the FT claiming that Apple only expects to sell around a million units of the Reality Pro in its first year.
Still, that could capture up to 10% of the VR headset market, according to analysts at CCS Insight, giving Apple a foothold to expand the capabilities and appeal of the headset in the future.
That said, the million unit figure could be generous: display industry expert Ross Young reacted to the news saying that one million units was “too high” because Apple’s micro OLED supplier “can’t make that many in a year.”
The Reality Pro will be Apple’s first foray into a new product category since the launch of the Apple Watch in 2015, and as such, it’s fraught with risk. With an announcement expected at Apple’s WWDC in June, we could soon find out if Tim Cook’s gamble will pay off.