Just when you thought the days of smartphone-driven VR or AR headsets were over, Apple might come along and make it trendy again. Granted, the likes of the Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR failed because of how they strapped smartphones to your head to do everything. Apple, on the other hand, might be doing things a little differently. According to sources familiar with matters, Apple will be taking a mixed approach to its mixed reality headset that will still require an iPhone to be nearby to do its magic.
VR and AR headsets, sometimes collectively called MR or mixed reality headsets, have traditionally been tethered to powerful PCs to do the heavy processing work. That didn’t do much for earlier headset designs that remained heavy and uncomfortable to wear anyway, but the industry has mostly moved on to standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest line. That said, that also put the figurative and literal load on people’s heads, something that Apple seems to be trying to avoid at all costs.
The Information’s report points to a setup where Apple will split responsibilities between the headset and a “host” device. The company has reportedly finished the designs for systems-on-chip or SoCs for the headset as well as imaging sensors and display drivers. While most of the graphics and basic processing will be handled by the headset itself, it is believed to be less powerful than the processors found in today’s iPhones and iPads.
In particular, it will lack the Neural Engine machine learning processor that Apple employs for its augmented reality technologies. The idea is to apparently offload the brunt of the work to an iPhone while the headset performs tasks that would be inefficient to carry over a wireless connection, like power management. This suggests that while the AR headset could work nominally without a tethered device, it will still need to wireless communicate with an iPhone to be fully functional.
Other AR platforms already have a similar arrangement, though their glasses are more barebones, and they connect to a smartphone with a cable. Apple’s version, on the other hand, puts a heavy emphasis on comfort while still giving the headset some muscle of its own. Apple’s mixed reality headset is expected to appear next year as a developer-centric kit with a more fashionable pair of AR glasses debuting in 2023.