Apple MR headset project beset by technical and leadership issues

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Apple has reportedly struggled to get its secretive mixed-reality headset project off the ground amid both technical and leadership challenges, though the device may still see a 2023 release.

Apple mixed-reality headset
Apple mixed-reality headset


The iPhone maker has been rumored to be working on a high-end headset device that combines both augmented and virtual reality functionalities. However, a new report from The Information details some of the struggles Apple has faced developing the device.

For one, the group behind the headset is reportedly isolated from the rest of Apple. CEO Tim Cook is said to "rarely" visit the team and hasn't been active in the project. Former Dolby executive Mike Rockwell, who leads the team, has had to fight to receive assistance from other parts of the company.

The team working on the project is also said to work out of offices in Sunnyvale that are several miles away from Apple Park. That added to the project's "invisibility to the rest of Apple."

Apple has been working on the project for years. In 2016, for example, it gave Apple board members a sneak peek at early iterations of the device. At the time, most of the prototypes were jury-rigged -- and included variants that were based on the HTC Vive or ran Microsoft Windows.

Former Apple design chief Jony Ive also had reservations about the project, apparently shooting down the idea of a dedicated VR headset because such devices "alienated users from other people by cutting them off from the outside world, made users look unfashionable and lacked practical uses."

The hesitation to do a full VR headset is why led to the idea of a mixed-reality device.

Other design challenges included working with the headset's battery technology. Team members wanted to incorporate swappable batteries in the wearable to allow users to wear it for hours at a time. However, that idea was scrapped and the headset is now said to have a battery that lasts "several hours." Sources claim that the device could still see a release in the second half of 2023.

This is not the first report that has shed light on Apple's apparent headset struggles. Bloomberg previously detailed issues with the wearable ranging from camera problems to challenges related to overheating.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,680member
    re: 

    Former Apple design chief Jony Ive also had reservations about the project, apparently shooting down the idea of a dedicated VR headset because such devices "alienated users from other people by cutting them off from the outside world, made users look unfashionable and lacked practical uses."

    I get that. But... I just happened to talk to a friend who ordered an Oculus because she experienced using one first hand and was absolutely blown away by it. This friend is (1) over 50, (2) generally very focused on her appearance (this is a girly girl, not a nerd girl), and (3) not at all technical. She just found the experience so incredibly compelling that she had to have it. She had never even heard of Oculus before and knew very little about VR. 

    I know it's one data point, but it was so different from what I expected that I am really reconsidering the merits of the Ive-style argument. I think he might be really wrong about how widespread the appeal of VR might be. 

    If Apple can offer something technically superior to Oculus (and I'm sure they can), at a decent price, and marketed with the usual Apple marketing, I think they could do very well. 

    It's a shame that the person leading the effort doesn't have the ability to make that case to senior management. 



    mangakattenFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 2 of 18
    aderutteraderutter Posts: 529member
    Jury-rigged? Surely you mean jerry-rigged.
    MisterKitmarkig1ravnorodomlolliver
  • Reply 3 of 18
    byronlbyronl Posts: 232member
    this project has been postponed by a year every year for the past five years…
    ravnorodom
  • Reply 4 of 18
    mpantonempantone Posts: 1,794member
    blastdoor said:
    If Apple can offer something technically superior to Oculus (and I'm sure they can), at a decent price, and marketed with the usual Apple marketing, I think they could do very well. 
    Disclaimer: I own an Oculus Rift S.

    The VR hardware itself works adequately even though it's still in its infancy from a consumer standpoint.

    I'm sure Apple can make something better than what I currently own. However it won't be cheaper, not with Apple's business model and gross margins that's for sure.

    The bigger problem is the current lack of compelling content. I have a few games and the only one that truly stands out is Half-Life: Alyx. There are other environments and scenarios such as sitting in a virtual living room and watching 3D movies and videos or exercise apps.

    My main issue with the technology is that I hate HMDs, headphones, skiing goggles, scuba masks, etc. They aren't comfortable.

    blastdoor said:
    It's a shame that the person leading the effort doesn't have the ability to make that case to senior management. 
    My guess is that most of Apple's senior management team have tried the various competitors' HMDs as well as various kinds of content. For a brief interval there were HMDs that accommodated smartphones (like Google Cardboard and more carefully crafted ones); I had a Mattel one that looked like the old school View-Master. I no longer own the View-Master since it only accommodated a handful of iPhone models, none of which I still own.

    I believe PS4 has a VR option; Sony has announced VR coming for PS5.

    And let's not forget Nintendo Virtual Boy (1995). 

    There were also "arcade" implementations of VR like the Aladdin Magic Carpet ride at Disney's EPCOT Center also back in the mid-Nineties so it's not like VR is new tech. Apple execs should be familiar with it.

    It's worth pointing out that recent market studies have shown that most VR headsets end up collecting dust after a short spurt of interest. Again, I think this tied heavily to the lack of compelling content and experiences. It's not like anyone is going to use a VR HMD to watch a regular 2D movie or listen to Spotify.
    edited May 17 ravnorodomFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 5 of 18
    paulalexpaulalex Posts: 5member
    I think one thing that the article fails to mention is context. I'd be curious to know when Jony Ive made the following comment of "alienated users from other people by cutting them off from the outside world, made users look unfashionable and lacked practical uses." This statement was actually quite true in 2016 when the first generation of modern VR (ex. HTC Vive, Oculus Rift) came out. At that time, the VR hype was out of control about what VR could do, and Ive's reflections were spot on.

    However, those issues that Ive speaks of are gradually being addressed with new tech/features such as pass-through cameras (ex. Varijo XR), smaller and lighter form factors (ex. pancake lenses), standalone models (ex. Quest 2), and an increasing number of social, game, educational, and business apps. Personally, I use a variety of XR (XR is a kind of umbrella term for all things MR-VR-AR-360) headsets, platforms, and apps for education and research.

    That said, the future of XR looks bright. With respect to XR headsets, I anticipate that we'll be introduced to 3rd generation headsets within the next year (to note, an XR generation is currently about 3 years long). Companies such as Apple, Valve, Meta, Pimax and others are all rumoured to be working on various next-gen tech such as eye-tracking, foveated rendering, face and full-body tracking, and so forth. Even though recent articles indicate that Apple is struggling with their XR headset, I imagine that they are getting closer to finishing their headset, along with tweaking their operating system (ex. rOS) and XR app store. 

    When Apple and other companies eventually do introduce their next-gen XR headsets, I suspect most of the issues that Jony Ive originally stated will be sorted out for the most part ~ 
    avon b7ravnorodom
  • Reply 6 of 18
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,012member
    I remember when people on AI thought you’d have to strap an iPhone to your face for it to work because Samsung was doing that garbage.

    I said “no way!”

    I still like to gloat about people who can’t see the future.
  • Reply 7 of 18
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,751moderator
    aderutter said:
    Jury-rigged? Surely you mean jerry-rigged.
    This typo is in the linked article:

    https://www.theinformation.com/articles/the-inside-story-of-why-apple-bet-big-on-a-mixed-reality-headset

    Some more quotes from the article are here:

    https://www.idownloadblog.com/2022/05/17/apple-headset-development-challenges-report/

    There's a description of early prototypes being held by a crane due to the weight. Modern hardware is much lighter, like the HTC Vive Flow:





    The article describes having an outer display layer that shows the user's eyes.



    It would be better than closed-off like VR while offering the same high quality passthrough merging of digital and real images to the user. If it was a wrap around display, it could make the goggles near invisible. This would add to the cost having an extra camera per eye and a display. It would look a bit unusual from the side, it would need to be quite slim so the display layer was close to the eyes. It would make a huge difference to people around to see the eyes though and it allows for full VR experiences.


    ravnorodomFileMakerFellerMacsWithPenguins
  • Reply 8 of 18
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,143member
    Wow, that's creepy.
    Japheyrezwits
  • Reply 9 of 18
    ravnorodomravnorodom Posts: 496member
    I think AR needs to be connected to iPhone wirelessly just like Apple Watch in order for it to stay light and slim. Today's AR is like the yesteryear of smartphone. It's not there yet.
  • Reply 10 of 18
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,365member
    Or maybe this is all bullshit and they’re getting ready to unveil them at WWDC in a few weeks. 
    rezwits
  • Reply 11 of 18
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,365member
    Marvin said:


    No thanks. 
  • Reply 12 of 18
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 6,214member
    I think AR needs to be connected to iPhone wirelessly just like Apple Watch in order for it to stay light and slim. Today's AR is like the yesteryear of smartphone. It's not there yet.
    Current projections point to massive (and increasing) wireless data usage so one way to maybe keep production costs down might be to piggyback off a phone modem. 

    The technology will also play a big part in cars (AR-HUDS) so the glasses angle isn't the only one. 

    Of course, as Balmer might say, it's all going to be about 'content, content, content!' so that needs to be taken care of too.

    I'd love to see my glasses/sunglasses let me see my phone content hands free even without any extra information overlaid. 
  • Reply 13 of 18
    mpantonempantone Posts: 1,794member
    I think AR needs to be connected to iPhone wirelessly just like Apple Watch in order for it to stay light and slim. Today's AR is like the yesteryear of smartphone. It's not there yet.
    Oculus Quest connects wirelessly. That does not negate the lack of compelling content.

    Remember that several years ago people were mounting their smartphones into "dumb" HMDs. The bigger problem is content not the number of wires coming from the VR HMD.

    Go ahead. Put on a VR HMD and do some sort of 30 minute aerobic workout session. Then try to take sip of water. You won't find it without ripping off the HMD. There are plenty of concrete limitations of VR HMDs.

    And yeah, the discontinued Oculus Rift S has a video passthrough mode and it still sucks.
    edited May 18
  • Reply 14 of 18
    michelb76michelb76 Posts: 386member
    If it's being developed like any other Apple project, this cannot come as a surprise. Pretty sure there's multiple teams working on this and they have no clue what the others are working on.
  • Reply 15 of 18
    palegolaspalegolas Posts: 1,341member
    If true, sounds like Apple is giving all attention to their true AR project over this VR/MR headset. And now that Google Glass 2 has been presented to the world, (and looking very nice), Apple needs to step it up in the AR department.

    AR vs MR is tough one. Even if AR holds much more practical promise, and technical wow factor, VR and MR might be much more attractive for the average person that mostly just wants to enjoy content, watch movies, enjoy their 360 or 180 camera recordings, and play VR games.
  • Reply 16 of 18
    blastdoor said:
    re: 

    Former Apple design chief Jony Ive also had reservations about the project, apparently shooting down the idea of a dedicated VR headset because such devices "alienated users from other people by cutting them off from the outside world, made users look unfashionable and lacked practical uses."

    I get that. But... I just happened to talk to a friend who ordered an Oculus because she experienced using one first hand and was absolutely blown away by it. This friend is (1) over 50, (2) generally very focused on her appearance (this is a girly girl, not a nerd girl), and (3) not at all technical. She just found the experience so incredibly compelling that she had to have it. She had never even heard of Oculus before and knew very little about VR. 


    I too am over 50, over 60 in fact.  I have an Oculus Rift S and a Valve Index.  Literal game changers; I seldom play pancake games anymore.  It's even somewhat useful for other use cases, though not for tasks such as photo editing because of relatively low resolution.

    That said, and I've said this one before, I'm not convinced that Apple is gunning for the gaming market at all.
  • Reply 17 of 18
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,751moderator
    Japhey said:
    Marvin said:


    No thanks. 
    This kind of passthrough technology works ok in other scenarios like in a car to see through blind spots:

    https://www.autocarpro.in/news-international/continental-interior-camera-and-oled-display-paired-in-vehicle-apillar-to-improve-driver-safety-41133

    As long as it doesn't distort the eyes too much, it will be ok and would be better than the blindfolded look. It would look weird if it was warped all over the face:



    It would work best to have a projection that changes when viewing from left-right or have a smaller projected area. A small area would be more durable and keep the cost down.

    If most manufacturers are aiming for ski goggle size, Apple might be aiming for swimming goggle size where the display size would be like the Apple Watch over each eye:




    If they are projecting light into the eye directly, the display can sit quite close to the eye. If the user has to look through a lens, it will need to sit further out and more likely to show distortion at different angles. A lighter/smaller device like this would be doing external processing and streaming video from an external device.

    I think Apple needs to get this to a $799 entry price at most, ideally $499 and if may require an iPhone 14 or M1 Mac/iPad to work with the streaming. 3-5 hour battery for the first version would be ok and potentially the legs can detach for charging like the Apple Pencil and for different styles.
  • Reply 18 of 18
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,102member
    aderutter said:
    Jury-rigged? Surely you mean jerry-rigged.
    You sure about that?

    https://english.stackexchange.com/a/132919
    beowulfschmidt
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