You’ll probably need an iPhone to use Apple’s first AR and VR headset

Concept by Antonio De Rosa

It looks like Apple’s first mixed reality headset won’t be a standalone device like the Oculus Quest 2, and instead will require a connected device, according to a new report from The Information.

As this is Apple we’re talking about, you would imagine this would be an iPhone or a Mac, given the company won’t even let you set up an Apple Watch without an iPhone.

In any case, The Information’s sources have said that the custom 5nm chip earmarked for the headset lacks Apple’s neural engine, and is instead designed with wireless data transfer, power efficiency and the compressing/decompressing of video in mind. All these things point to a device that’s more of a bridge to content than one that’s capable of running said content natively. 

And if that sounds familiar, it might be because that’s pretty much how the first generation of Apple Watch functioned – a window to a bunch of apps that ran on your iPhone, rather than something capable of running them itself. Which will have proved a valuable lesson to anybody who wasted over NZ$23,000 on a 2015 Watch Edition, which wouldn’t support WatchOS 5 and later.  

That said, it sounds like the headset will have some limited functionality even without an active connection, as the report notes that it could have its own CPU and GPU. All the same, if this is correct, it looks like the internal debate inside Apple about whether the device should rely on a Mac-sized base station ultimately went in Jony Ive’s* favour.

There’s one more interesting detail from The Information’s report. Apparently, the headset requires an “unusually large” image sensor. How large is “unusually large” you ask? About the same size as the device’s lens, so pretty damned large. It’s apparently proving difficult to build.

But it does give us a possible insight as to how the headset will function as both an AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) headset. While the former requires a clear view of your surroundings, the latter requires the eyes to be covered. With a large imaging sensor, Apple’s attempt to square this circle could be an extremely high-resolution feed of the world beyond the headset.

We have quite a while before we find out. The first iteration of Apple’s headset reportedly won’t be here until next year. And if Apple doesn’t call it iSight, it’s missing an absolute trick. 

*That’s the legendary former Apple designer Jony Ive, not a typo for the robot from Short Circuit.

Image: A concept by Antonio De Rosa

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