Apple Can Rescue Virtual Reality, Experts Say—Here's Why it Matters

Apple may be late to the metaverse party, but experts say its next big product launch could lure more users to virtual reality.

The tech giant is reportedly soon releasing a headset that allows access to virtual reality. It's following on the heels of Meta's Quest lineup of VR headsets. The Apple headset is expected to bring a host of new features, including mixed reality, which lets users interact with both the real and virtual worlds.

"I think one of the most important features that will be coming in Apple's headset is the sheer number of cameras that are reportedly in the device," Grant Anderson, the CEO of AR game development company Mirrorscape told Lifewire in an email interview. "Upwards of 12-15 cameras are rumored to be included, which will allow for tracking of the user's eye direction, facial expressions, hand gestures, and even leg movements."

Virtual Guessing Game

A report by The Information claims to have discovered new details about the highly-anticipated wearable gadget. According to unnamed Apple insiders, there's a bevy of features coming to the ski-goggle-shaped device, including a dial on the side that lets users switch between VR views and color views of the real world.

Anderson said he thinks gesture recognition will set the Apple headset apart from the current generation of headsets and allow for fine control of digital objects.

"This is one of the Achilles heels of competing headsets," he added. "Likewise, customizable 3D digital avatars (and an SDK to support them across applications) that are an evolution of Apple's current Animoji 2D avatars and driven by all of the cameras on the device will allow for your digital twin to be fully represented in virtual or augmented worlds at a distance."

The most critical part of an Apple headset will be high-resolution displays with high refresh rates, Danielle Dafni, the co-founder of the tech company Peech, said in an email interview. "This is important for providing a clear and immersive visual experience," Dafni added.

Stiff Competition

Apple will face a crowded VR headsets marketplace if it ever starts selling one of its own. Meta is the big player in this space, with the Oculus Quest 2 aimed at most users while the more expensive Oculus Quest Pro is intended for business users. Sony is also expected to soon ship its own VR headset for its Playstation console.

"You would have to believe that Facebook is going to commit as much company resources as possible to compete in this space; it just makes sense," tech analyst Bob Bilbruck, the CEO of Captjur, said in an email. "But also Sony, because of gaming and how prominent gaming will be in this space, and don't forget about the 800 lb South Korea Gorilla Samsung. I am sure they will have something to say also before all the dust settles in the VR vertical market."

A person wearing a VR headset while sitting in front of a computer.
Jeshoots / Unsplash

Apple will have to overcome steep technical challenges in bringing to market a successful VR headset. Microsoft and Magic Leap have been making augmented reality headsets that could resemble an eventual Apple product, Anderson noted. But they have had little success in bringing the technology to consumers.

"And that's because creating lightweight, powerful hardware that isn't a battery drain and doesn't overheat with optics that provide for a wide field of view and high resolution is very, very difficult," he added. "Only a few companies in the world have the capability to pull this off in a price effective and mass market way that will allow for consumer adoption."

Apple has been working on its VR headsets for several years, possibly since 2014, Veena Somareddy, the co-founder of Neuro Rehab VR, said via email. "As we look into the future, there will be an emphasis on the distinction between a VR or AR headset. It will be an all-encompassing device with hand tracking instead of controllers," Somareddy added.

Despite the head start of other companies, many observers agree that Apple has the best chance of finally bringing VR to the mainstream. "Never bet against Apple and their ability to bring a complicated technology to the market and make it a fashionable must-have for consumers," Anderson said.


January 12, 2023

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