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Will Apple’s Mixed Reality Headset Live Up to the Hype?

Illustration: Wayne Grayson

I don’t know about you, but if there’s ever been hype around a rumored Apple product that I have felt most disconnected from, it’s the obsessively chronicled mixed reality headset that we’re supposedly going to get our first look at during the WWDC keynote in a couple of weeks.

And look, I say that as someone who deeply appreciates not just Apple products but what the company stands for: that design isn’t just how a thing looks, it’s how it works. Beyond category-defining products like the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, the Apple Watch, and most recently, AirPods, Apple is also driven by creating products for creators. As Steve Jobs said, Apple’s DNA is based in the belief that “technology alone is not enough.” That it’s only when you marry technology with liberal arts, with the humanities, that you produce a result “that makes our hearts sing.”

I think what’s off with the hype around the rumored mixed reality headset―a device that will seek to both immerse the wearer in virtual worlds and augment the real world around them with information or entertainment―is that there is yet to be any evidence of something that would make your heart sing.

A mind-goggling problem

Now, you could definitely say the same thing about other Apple products before they officially launched. It was hard to know how to feel about the Apple Watch before using one, for instance, while other products like the iPod, iPhone, and AirPods established a seemingly immediate connection with the general populace. But with the Apple Watch, you could at least imagine it. The most personal computer yet? A device that would not only inform and connect the wearer but also serve as a fashion piece or statement? Those possibilities were clear from the start.

But in my opinion, things are extremely unclear when it comes to the rumored headset. (If you need a rumor mill refresher about all the expectations behind the headset, MacRumors has an awesome roundup right here.) As things stand, this is a solution in search of a problem.

For starters, the majority of Apple’s hardware focus for some time now has been on tools that can be used anywhere and at anytime. Another Apple tech philosophy is that good technology fades into the background as if it’s not even there.

This mixed reality―or XR as Apple is calling it―headset though? It literally covers your eyes and, based on the rumored renders, is the size and shape of ski goggles.

The next AirPods?

People are going to have to overcome a lot of social anxiety to use these things out in the open. To date, the most successful VR headset by far is the Meta Quest. Do you see them out in the wild? Occasionally, and that feels like overstating it a bit. Are they as ubiquitous as AirPods? Not even close.

To be clear, Apple’s expectations for the sales the first generation of this headset will generate seem appropriate. Based on what analyst Ming Chi Kuo says, Apple is forecasting sales of 7 to 10 million units in the first year. For comparison, the company sold 225 million iPhones in 2022. So this headset would represent a small fraction of Apple’s biggest business.

But the ubiquity of AirPods―technology that actually augments the world around you in a non-intrusive way―is exactly what those who believe in the promise of mixed reality headsets should be aiming for. Anything else undermines the ultimate utility of the technology. That’s evident in the adoption of current generation headsets like the Meta Quest and Quest Pro. As an owner of a Quest 2, it’s a fun device with enjoyable gaming experiences. But the bulk of the headset and the need to have a completely wide open space to use it in make it somewhat of a nuisance to use. I don’t just decide to throw it on. It feels like a whole process I have to be willing to get into instead of just picking up a controller or my Nintendo Switch.

The Quest Pro was released for “professional” applications, but no one is taking it seriously either because no one wants to have to strap a headset to their face and then have a meeting…with cartoon characters.

But if history is any indication, this tepid state of mixed reality should be a huge opportunity for Apple to do what Apple has always done: elevate a technology to new heights in such a way that it just clicks with the masses.

And if the rumored hardware turns out to be true, Apple is putting itself in a good position to do just that. The headset is said to have dual 4K micro-OLED displays, dual M2-based processors, and 12 cameras for hand tracking. Those dual 4K displays are said provide 3,000 pixels per inch for ultra-sharp viewing that would be a night-and-day upgrade over the Quest 2.

But again, just look at this render. If the headset ends up looking like this, it will definitely be the coolest-looking one yet. I really dig the use of materials that call the AirPods Max and Apple Watch to mind as it showcases that Apple is putting everything its learned from wearable tech into this design.

But. It’s still so big. And it still sits on your face. And if the rumors are true, it will cost $3,000.

Seeking J.A.R.V.I.S.

Even with all the might of dual M2 processors and 3,000 pixels-per-inch displays blasting incredible visuals directly into your eyeballs, the technology still seems… undercooked. 

The ultimate aim of this technology feels like it should be an audio-visual, mixed reality AI like J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Iron Man movies. Specifically, the portable Jarvis that Tony Stark can access through a pair of glasses. That is undeniably cool and something that everyone wants.

But these giant headsets are not that. Could they enable some incredible and intuitive work and play experiences? Yes. But how can you call something truly immersive if it makes you sweat around the eyes while hugging your head?

Of course there’s a chance that the rumors only have things half right. Maybe this headset is lighter and less bulky than the renders. Maybe the xrOS and apps that Apple has put together are truly groundbreaking and will change the way people work and communicate. I hope they are! And maybe Apple actually sells it somewhere closer to $1,000 than $3,000. Those things would certainly help. 

But even without those things, we’ve seen Apple release a first generation product with a lot of promise and a high price tag before to the praise of a small group of early adopters and then slowly build a massive business around the product through yearly iteration. That could very well happen again with this headset!

I could continue to go round and round with the ifs and buts here, and I think that’s why there’s more of an uncertain feeling with this headset than Apple products that have come before it. High price tags haven’t stopped Apple in the past and neither has the lackluster current state of a market the company has chosen to enter. But in the case of mixed reality, there’s a more philosophical uncertainty: will this technology exemplify Apple’s DNA? Will it truly marry technology and the humanities.

Will it make our hearts sing? I’m just not sure.

What do you think about the rumored Apple mixed reality headset? Are you excited about it? If so, what do you think the promise of this technology is? What do you anticipate Apple has up its sleeve? Let us know in the comments below.

OWC Wayne G
the authorOWC Wayne G
Tech lover, multimedia creator, and marketing manager for OWC's Rocket Yard and Mission Control blogs.
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  • Apple introduced Apple Vision Pro—aimed at the professional market, but probably including the geek gaming community. Nicely done. I am retired so have no need of it. If I was still consulting in tech publishing, I would buy and use Apple Vision Pro for mobile work—way more convenient than dragging around a MacBook Pro, plus way more flexible and cool. You call Vision Pro, “a solution in search of a problem.” Are you kidding? Multiple screens carried around as easy as a ski mask. Wow!

    I started with Apple in 1984 with the original Macintosh. My customers thought of me as weird when I showed up every time with a tan canvas zipper bag displaying a rainbow apple minus a byte :). Weird, yes, but my customers loved the cool factor of the luggable portable Macintosh, especially because the machine with 128K of RAM helped me get their projects done—accurately, quickly and beautifully. I blew past my competitors stuck with IBM PCs running cranky word processors. FYI, I had previously used a Z80 with WordStar and an IBM PC with text-based MS Word. 1984 turned out as an acceleration year for my solo business because I could see past the dreary naysayers who labeled the Macintosh as an expensive toy.

    Apple has developed a totally cool business and media machine plus a fun way to play games. See the future.

  • I can foresee their use to enhance vision when visibility limited: eg
    Firemen/police viewing floor layout
    Pilots flying in zero visibility
    soldiers in combat

  • Have there been any rumors of the Apple Mixed Reality Headset as a total game changer in medical rehabilitation…stroke recovery…and more? Integration with Apple devices has revolutionized life for so many of us.

  • I believe that the first generation of this headset at $3K will be a huge flop. Most people will not be able to afford the XR headset face trap and the whole thing is extremely questionable regarding its utility in everyday life.

    You have to sweat under this miserable contraption, put up with being tethered to a battery pack (which you failed to mention in this review) for a bang of w maybe four hours while the M2s generate enough heat to cook your brain.

    I think Tim Cook is far to way out on this being the next Apple financial saviour. I would have loved it if they had taken all of the R&D resources, people and money, to come out with a 16” unified Mac-iPad under one OS which has been the mantra for so many years.

    Nope, I think that the XR headset will be the Seward’s Folly of the Apple world. Hey; but, what could be better for other countries to observe than Americans walking around in an AR/VR stupor as a car just ran over them. Remember the EarPod backlash when there were so many fatalities caused by kis crossing railroad track in front of an oncoming train that was blasting it horn and they could not hear it. Imagine looking at a cop telling them that you did not see the stop light because it was missing from your AR/VR presentation of the intersection at 5th and Elm.

    Nope, no XR in my future until they resemble glasses. It’s just another Google Glass boondoggle.