One of the tech industry’s worst-kept secrets is Apple’s AR / VR headset. While the Californian tech giant has yet to confirm anything publicly, the bevy of leaks and rumors for such a device all but guarantee that it’s working on a rival to Meta’s Project Cambria headset.
But the signs also suggest that we won’t be seeing it in action anytime soon – and almost certainly not at WWDC 2022.
Apple is actually believed to be working on two devices: an AR/VR headset and a pair of AR Apple Glasses, with the headset expected to be the first of the two to launch. Rumors about both devices first started appearing way back in 2015 – but now, seven years later, Apple still isn’t ready to show them off.
That’s based on reports from multiple sources in the past few weeks.
The first came from The Information (opens in new tab), which collected reports from insiders familiar with the project on how it's been developing over the past few years. It corroborated a long-held belief that Apple’s AR/VR headset development has been drawn out and beset with problems, ranging from internal disputes and a lack of interdepartmental collaboration to infeasible design ideas that have had to be continually reworked.
One such scrapped concept was reportedly a replaceable battery. This would allow a user to operate the wireless headset while charging up a spare battery which could be easily swapped in to extend the use time. This idea wasn’t feasible though; instead, a rumor from earlier this year suggests that the powerful device will only be usable for short bursts.
Following The Information was Ming-Chi Kuo. Kuo often accurately predicts Apple’s development plans, and most recently he’s predicted that an Apple headset launch isn’t coming soon because Apple hasn’t begun mass production on it yet.
As Kuo sees it, announcing the headset now would be a major misstep. Apple would give away too many details to its competitors, and we could see a slew of copycat devices hit shelves before Apple's.
Last but not least, The New York Times (opens in new tab) released a report over the weekend that once again confirmed that the difficulties of producing an AR/VR device have delayed Apple's headset until at least 2023.
No launch, but still nearing take off
While many signs point to Apple's AR/VR headset being delayed further, there are a couple of reports that suggest some kind of WWDC 2022 announcement could be possible.
The biggest is that the headset and its OS were reportedly shown off to top Apple execs recently. This strongly suggests that the team working on the headset believes that it's ready to leave the development stage, or at the very least that they're happy enough to show off what they've accomplished so far.
Additionally (as spotted by Parker Ortolani (opens in new tab)) a company called Realityo Systems LLC has been awarded two trademarks for 'realityOS' in the US. It's long been reported that realityOS is the name of the operating system Apple's headset will run on.
Realityo Systems LLC was completely unknown before being awarded these trademarks, suggesting that it could be a shell company owned by Apple. Apple has previously used shell companies to hold onto trademarks ahead of an official announcement, and it could be doing the same here.
Based on these pieces of evidence we wouldn't be shocked if realityOS got name-checked at WWDC 2022, with Apple perhaps giving a demo to selected developers behind closed doors.
This is Apple's first major in-person tech event following the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many developers attending to see first-hand what the company has to show off.
WWDC 2022 would be a great opportunity for Apple to get developers with AR/VR expertise to try out its new realityOS – and perhaps even a prototype headset – in person. This in turn could drum up excitement and, more importantly, encourage companies to support the platform with new software in time for a likely launch in 2023.
When Apple launches its new headset it will be up against long-time players – notably Meta, but also Valve and HTC – which already have vast libraries of apps and VR games. Apple will need to ensure it gets plenty of developer support for its own device, or it could wind up releasing a device that doesn't do all that much.
We'll have to wait and see what Apple announces at WWDC 2022, and thankfully there's not too much longer until we find out what it has to show off. If you want to follow all the announcements as they happen be sure to check out our WWDC 2022 liveblog for all the latest news and analysis from the event.