Apple pushes back mixed-reality headset debut two months to June


The iPhone maker is now aiming to unveil the headset at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are confidential. — Reuters

Apple Inc has postponed a planned introduction of its first mixed-reality headset from around April to June, according to people familiar with the matter, marking the latest setback for the tech giant’s next big initiative.

The iPhone maker is now aiming to unveil the product at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are confidential. Apple made the decision to delay the launch earlier this month after product testing showed that both hardware and software issues still needed to be ironed out, they said.

The debut of the headset has been a long time coming, with Apple working on the technology since around 2015. At one point, the company aimed to introduce the product in June of last year, before pushing back the introduction until around January 2023. It was then shifted to spring before the latest postponement.

The device, which melds virtual and augmented reality, would vault Apple into its first major new product category since the company began selling smartwatches in 2015. That could help bolster growth following a recent slowdown, but it’s still an uncertain market and Apple plans to charge around US$3,000 for the new product – a daunting price tag.

Dan Riccio – Apple’s former hardware chief, who now helps oversee the mixed-reality project – has become increasingly involved in the endeavour in recent weeks as the company looks to resolve remaining issues, the people added. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Apple’s earlier plan was to unveil the product in early spring at a launch event aimed at consumers. It could then provide more extensive details and development tools to third-party software developers at its annual June expo, known as WWDC. Now the company is aiming to debut all aspects of the device at that conference. The product would then go on sale later in the year.

The timing could always change again, but the Cupertino, California-based company is intent on bringing the device to market by the end of 2023 if possible. It’s meant to be a centerpiece of Apple’s new product lineup during an otherwise modest year. The company is introducing a larger MacBook Air, new Mac Pro desktop and updates to the iPhone, but there won’t be significant changes to its watch, AirPods or iPad.

Apple’s mixed-reality headset will feature a new operating system, dubbed xrOS internally, that features a 3D-like view of an iPhone interface, complete with apps like Messages, Mail, Safari and TV. The device – codenamed N301 – will allow for more advanced virtual videoconferencing, with realistic avatars, as well as immersive video streaming. It will also include an App Store like Apple’s other core products.

The hardware itself has been challenging and pricey to develop, partly because of its sophisticated components. It includes a Mac-grade M2 chip, a pair of 4K virtual reality displays, and an extensive array of cameras to enable augmented reality.

Developing the product’s interface also has been a complex undertaking. Users will be able to look at items to select them and pinch their fingers to launch apps – and perfecting this sci-fi-like approach has taken time.

Apple has been working to fix issues with sensors on the device to enable the hand and eye control mechanism. It’s also trying to strike a balance between battery life and performance. During development, the company made the decision to offload the device’s battery to an external pack that would sit in a user’s pocket.

Within Apple, there have been concerns that the headset will be too costly and suffer the same fate as Meta Platforms Inc devices, which have been slow to go mainstream. Some engineers involved in the project worry that Apple is jumping into a still-nascent market without a true game changer. Others believe that the initial device will set the stage for future successes, a path followed by the Apple Watch.

The company is already eyeing a cheaper version – with less pricey and powerful components – for release as early as 2024. At the same time, Apple has indefinitely postponed work on standalone augmented reality glasses, which would be less cumbersome but require technological sophistication beyond what’s currently available. – Bloomberg

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