It appears as though internal disagreements have altered the development plans of Apple’s very secretive AR/VR headset. The project has been kept under wraps for quite some time.
Although no official word on the AR/VR project has been announced, Bloomberg has reported that some internal disputes have altered the trajectory of the headset. A team of roughly 1000 engineers began working on the project back in 2015. The team, lead by Mike Rockwell, began working on Apple’s next biggest product launch since the Apple Watch.
The lead set course to develop two headsets. The first, codenamed N301, was an all-in-one AR/VR headset and was focused on leveraging gaming, education, and consuming all matters of content. The second, codenamed N421, was an AR-only lightweight headset. The vision for N421 was to enable overlays such as texts and maps in view of the users, something akin to Google Glasses.
According to those familiar with the matter, N301 was designed for a high-calibre AR/VR headset. The initial vision was to develop a “stationary hub” for the device to assist in processing. Otherwise, the headset ran the risk of overheating due to the demanding technology. Rockwell’s team prototyped a hub resembling a small Mac which would transmit a signal wirelessly. Early versions of the device also had the headset running on an independent mode, not hinged on being connected to the hub.
However, all this came to a head when Apple’s design chief Jony Ive “balked” at Rockwell’s vision for having a stationary hub. He disputed this idea and urged Rockwell and his team to redevelop the headset to create one that is less powerful but would enable full functionality without assistance from an external device. Rockwell pushed back claiming that with the hub, N301 would be more superior and would “blow anything else on the market out of the water.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook ultimately took the side of Ive. While N301 is reportedly still quite powerful, its graphical fidelity output and download speeds have taken a slight toll without the assistance of the hub.
“Although the headset now in development is less technologically ambitious than originally intended, it’s pretty advanced. It’s designed to feature ultra-high-resolution screens that will make it almost impossible for a user to differentiate the virtual world from the real one. A cinematic speaker system will make the experience even more realistic, people who have used prototypes say.”
According to the report, Apple’s headset is similar in design to that of Facebook’s Oculus Quest. The design has more fabric on the body than plastic. The design team is still tweaking it in order to find the right fit for the headset. With a focus on gaming, Apple’s vision is to give N301 its own App Store to have a curated marketplace for AR/VR content and applications. The headset will also be able to stream video content and work as a communication device for virtual meetings.
Apple hopes to release N301 by 2022 with the smaller AR-only N421 headset releasing the next year in 2023.