Apple has spent over a decade reshaping modern technology. The iPhone hit the scene in 2007 and popularized the now-ubiquitous smartphone industry. In 2011, Apple essentially invented tablets with the iPad. The Apple Watch popularized wearable technology, the AirPods created the standard for true-wireless earbuds, and the list just keeps going.
So, it’s not an exaggeration to say that tech-savvy people are excited about Apple’s next big project. Rumor has it that the Cupertino-based tech giant is working on a mixed-reality headset that will revolutionize augmented reality technology. If Apple can do for VR what it’s done for several other industries, the long-awaited shift in virtual reality could finally materialize.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: virtual reality and the headsets required to make it work are just plain awful. The headsets are heavy and expensive, the technology causes motion sickness in many users, and the use cases for the hardware are negligible outside of video games. It’s not hard to imagine why dedicated VR headsets are not mass-market success stories like the iPhone or Apple Watch. These are niche products for enthusiasts.
If Apple is working on a mixed-reality headset, it’s working against far more factors than it was with many of its recent projects. For one thing, people already generally liked cell phones when the company rolled out the iPhone. As a general rule, people aren’t rushing out to buy the latest VR headsets.
If Apple’s offering is lightweight, wireless, easy-to-use, and affordable compared to its competitors, the company might be onto something. Much of the trouble with conventional VR headsets can be traced back to how invested users need to be to get the most out of them. Even if you aren’t bothered by the weight of the headsets or the potential for motion sickness, you still need to operate a rather powerful PC to get the most out of the technology.
If Apple can use its cloud-based technology to make a mixed-reality headset that acts as a “heads-up display” or overlay on the real world, it could be a game-changer. It will reportedly dominate most of Apple’s production resources for 2023. Users should expect to see little more than spec-bump releases across the iPad, Apple Watch, and AirPod lines until at least 2024.
The real question now is whether Apple will be capable of drumming up interest. This is a field that has so far failed to capture the public’s imagination.