Apple’s mixed reality headset could feature full-body FaceTime avatars

Apple’s mixed reality headset could feature full-body FaceTime avatars

Apple’s mixed reality headset could feature full-body FaceTime avatars

Apple is expected to reveal its long-anticipated mixed reality headset in the coming months. The device has been in the works for several years and it’ll be Apple’s first new product category since Apple Watch, which debuted in 2015. Many details about the device have emerged through the rumor mill. Although much of the information in his latest piece on the headset has already been reported, Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman has revealed some more details about what to expect from the product, which may be called Reality Pro.

It’s said to be a standalone device with an interface similar to that of iPhone and iPad and the option to pin widgets to the home screen. Alternatively, it may be used as an external display for a connected Mac. Along with Siri voice commands, there’ll be the option to use a Mac, iPhone or iPad keyboard to enter text on the so-called “xrOS” operating system, according to the report. Apple is believed to be working on a way for users to type with their hands in midair, like in many sci-fi movies, but that option likely won’t be available when the headset debuts.

It’s expected that there will be health-tracking features and the option to install third-party apps. Virtual reality video is said to be a focus, with the company adding support for Apple TV+ content. It’s believed that Apple has held talks with Disney, Dolby and other media partners regarding VR content, and that there will be the option to watch video on virtual screens in environments like space or a desert. Users might need to wear AirPods or other supported headphones for spatial audio if they want to be fully immersed. Gaming may be an important aspect of the device as well. 

The key selling point for the headset could be Apple’s approach to hand and eye tracking. It’s believed that the device will have sensors that can follow wearers’ eyes and several external cameras that can monitor hand movements. The idea, according to the report, is that users would be able to select an item (such as an app icon or button) by looking at it and then squeezing their thumb and index finger to carry out that action. If this approach works as expected, wearers wouldn’t need to use hand controllers — rival headsets typically require those. Meanwhile, the headset may have a screen on the front that can display the wearer’s eyes, which might be a little offputting for some.

The device is expected to support virtual reality and augmented reality, with the ability to switch between the two modes using a Watch-like digital crown. Meta’s latest headset, the Quest Pro, offers full-color passthrough for AR use and it’s expected that Apple will offer a similar function.

Apple may be keeping users who need prescription glasses in mind. Many glasses wearers have found it uncomfortable to wear VR and AR headsets. However, it’s claimed that Apple will offer custom lenses that sit within the headset’s enclosure, which could make it more comfortable to use.

One intriguing aspect of the headset that doesn’t seem to have been reported before is how it will handle one-on-one FaceTime calls. It was previously believed that other people on a call will be displayed as an icon or Memoji. That’s still likely to be the case for group calls. For one-on-one chats in which both participants are wearing a Reality Pro, the report suggests that FaceTime will render realistic versions of their face and body. Processing limitations seemingly prevent this feature from being available for group calls. Other companies, such as Meta, typically render users in a more cartoonish fashion (and don’t yet include legs).

Any of these features may still yet change as the headset is months away from coming to market. However, it’s believed that Reality Pro will be powered by an M2 chipset. A second chip called the “Reality Processor” is expected to handle graphics and mixed-reality experiences.

While other headset makers typically opt for a plastic body, Apple is believed to be constructing Reality Pro using aluminum, glass and cushions with a similar look to the AirPods Max headphones. However, the battery is not expected to be built into the device. According to Gurman, the battery will be in an external pack that connects to the headset via a cable and is placed in a user’s pocket. That, and a cooling fan, could help avoid the headset from overheating, but it could lead to a weight imbalance. The battery life is said to be around two hours.

Apple may reveal the device this spring — before this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June — and release it this fall. The price, though, may put off many who might otherwise be interested in Reality Pro. It’s long been expected that the headset will retail for around $3,000. That’s twice as much as the Quest Pro.

This is a gamble for Apple as it moves into a new market that hasn’t yet seen mass adoption. The report suggests that Apple expects to sell around 1 million units in the first year and the company even anticipates that the first version of Reality Pro won’t turn a profit. Another version that will cost around $1,500 is said to be in the pipeline, though that may not arrive until late 2024 or early 2025. The cheaper model may eschew the Reality Pro’s 4K displays for ones with lower resolution to reduce the cost.

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Published at Mon, 23 Jan 2023 20:20:04 +0000

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