Report traces the never-ending development of Apple’s headset
The Apple headset has been in development for a good six years, when (!) it will finally be launched soon. A lot has happened since 2016.
With such a long development time, it is clear that there has been a lot of back and forth. The endless leaks of the last few years already showed that Apple worked on different concepts for tech glasses in parallel. A detailed report from The Information now traces this long development history in detail.
iPhone and Mac development had priority
Part of the headset’s story is that Mike Rockwell, the head of Apple’s AR/VR team, had to fight hard for attention and resources. Among other things, his team was housed in a building several miles away from Apple’s headquarters, which made the project seem rather low-profile internally.
According to The Information’s sources, Apple CEO Tim Cook supports the headset project, but is less involved in iPhone development than Steve Jobs. This is another reason why the XR team has had a harder time competing with Apple’s established products like the iPhone and Mac.
In 2018, for example, Rockwell reportedly didn’t get the support he needed from Apple’s camera team before an important management presentation because camera engineers were focused on developing the iPhone XS. Externally, Cook has emphasized the long-term importance of augmented reality for the iPhone company for many years.
Outdoor display for better on-site communication
Already known is the story of Apple’s ex-chief designer John Ive, who met face computers in general and VR headsets in particular with great skepticism and probably prevented the development of a pure VR device. Ive and his team were convinced that VR was locally isolating, looked unfashionable, had no practical use, and that people had no desire to wear a headset for longer than necessary.
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These concerns were then partially addressed internally with two features we could see in the final Apple headset: first, outward-facing video cameras that stream the outside world into the glasses, also for better augmented reality.
In addition, a display with a live video image of the headset wearer’s eyes was reportedly attached to a prototype to improve communication in the field. For years, the existence of this outdoor display was reportedly known only to Rockwell and a small group of people. Meta is also researching such display eye technology and unveiled it in 2021.
Apple at times planned a replaceable battery for the headset, according to The Information, but is said to now have a battery that lasts for several hours without replacement.
The complete story is available at The Information behind a paywall. A second report will shed light on the development after 2018.