Apple’s Mixed-Reality Headset Will be Incredibly Lightweight

Recent reports have indicated Apple is keen to get in on the smart headset game with a mixed reality device that combines augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) with a dozen built-in cameras and sensors. Now, reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple is working on giving its headset a key advantage over rivals.

That edge will come in the form of its super-lightweight form factor. According to Kuo, Apple is aiming for a total weight of 150g (0.3 pounds), far below the rest of the market, where headsets can weigh upwards of 300g (and much more). With less bulk, Apple is likely hoping users will be able to enjoy using the headset for longer before its weight becomes apparent and tiresome.

There are a few ways Apple is looking to achieve this target weight. One is by using lightweight fabric material to coat the device. Another, according to Kuo, is by forgoing glass lenses in favor of plastic alternatives, which can be made thinner and lighter and help towards Apple’s aims.

Specifically, Kuo claims these will be Fresnel lenses with ultra-short focal lengths and improved fields of view. They are not without drawbacks, though — one potential problem is that they might suffer reduced brightness compared to other options, but Apple is apparently working to counter this by using microLED displays to improve visual quality. Previous reports have claimed Apple’s headset could feature an 8K display for each eye, so it seems the company is trying to achieve ultra-high quality without cramming the device so full of tech that it puts a strain on users’ necks.

If Apple can bring all this to the table, it could make its headset one of the most compelling choices on the market — at least at the top end. We have heard in the past that Apple is aiming for a $1,000 price for its mixed reality headset. While that will make it far from the most affordable headset out there, it seems Apple is aiming high considering the rumors of its incredible fidelity and super-lightweight form.

Kuo believes the headset could ship sometime in 2022, although that might be delayed due to supply issues. That means there is still plenty of time for more news to drop, so keep your eyes peeled.

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Watch: Pokemon GO mixed-reality future demoed at Microsoft Ignite

Niantic demonstrated a proof-of-concept vision today at Microsoft Ignite, showing what Microsoft Mesh could do with Pokemon GO. Microsoft Mesh is a new platform built on Azure that allows developers to connect users with a wide variety of devices and technologies, including AR and VR, on PCs, smartphones, tablets, and mixed-reality headsets. As Pokemon GO is a quintessential shared gaming experience, it seemed only natural to see Niantic appear when Microsoft made their first push for Mesh.

The actual Mesh-enabled Pokemon GO is a long way away. Microsoft and Niantic made it especially clear today that they DO NOT have a consumer product ready, and that the demo they showed today is not a representation of the game as it may or may not exist in the future. What we saw seemed pretty spectacular.

Above you’ll see the demonstration made by Niantic during Microsoft Ignite 2021. Start at around the 1-minute mark for the Niantic content. UPDATE: See below for the whole video from Niantic.

What’s clear here is the speed at which the system works, and the limitations therein. It’ll be a while before we’re able to work with Pokemon GO with any sort of full-fledged game-ready action. For now, it looks a bit more like an extension of the Buddy Pokemon system and the already-active shared augmented reality photo system in the game now – which is pretty neat!

MORE INFO: Microsoft Mesh makes future meetings shared, AR, virtual experiences

John Hanke, CEO and founder of Niantic, suggested that Microsoft Mesh allows users “a whole new way” of allowing Niantic to achieve the goals they’ve set for their games. Their mission is to “create technologies that allow people to socialize and explore the world together.”

“This notion of bringing my virtual friends along with me as I go out and walk and explore the world,” said Hanke, “I just love that concept and I’m really interested to see what we can do with that.”

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Apple’s $3k mixed-reality headset could pack twin 8K displays

Apple’s first mixed-reality headset will be no Oculus Quest alternative, new leaks suggest, with a supposed price tag – and high-end specs – that would put it among the company’s most expensive Mac and display models. Long rumored, though believed to be finally headed to market around 2022, the first-generation Apple VR/AR headset would be more akin to a Microsoft HoloLens in positioning and cost.

HoloLens – now in its second generation – is Microsoft’s mixed-reality headset, with transparent displays worn in a visor-like arrangement. Priced at around $3,500, it’s targeted not at regular consumers, however, but businesses and factories, with applications such as augmented reality collaboration and remote support.

Apple’s approach would be different, however. The company plans to use twin 8K displays, one for each eye, far outperforming any current AR/VR headset in the market, according to a source speaking to The Information. That huge resolution – equivalent of looking at two of the most cutting-edge TVs – would allow for super-crisp graphics and more realistic interfaces and virtual objects.

The downside to twin 8K resolution, of course, is the processing power needed to drive those displays. Apple’s answer, the insider says, is what’s known generally as foveated rendering. It relies on the fact that human vision is only really precise in the portion where the individual’s eyes are directly pointed; everything around that, in their peripheral vision, is far lower quality.

With eye-tracking cameras, then, foveated rendering can track where the user is looking and prioritize what part of the scene is rendered to the highest quality. In short, the portion of Apple’s headset displays you’re actually looking at would be rendered at 8K, requiring maximum GPU power; what’s around that could be much lower quality, however.

Apple isn’t alone on working on that technology. We’ve seen Qualcomm push it in its Snapdragon XR2 headset platform, as a way to maximize performance from its mobile chipsets, while the HTC VIVE Pro Eye headset also supports foveated rendering. Concepts from Fraunhofer FEP back in 2017 even baked the eye-tracking cameras directly into OLED panels for a more streamlined headset.

Exactly what approach Apple is using is unclear, but the Cupertino mixed-reality headset certainly won’t be short on cameras. It’ll apparently feature more than a dozen, used for tracking hand movements as well as eyes. That way, wearers will be able to use gestures to control the interface, along with interacting with virtual objects.

Even with processing demands tempered, however, Apple’s system won’t be cheap. Internally, it’s said, there’s been talk of a $3,000 price tag, apparently: that’s about half of what a new Mac Pro would cost you. As a result, it’s likely to be of limited sales appeal: indeed, it could really be more of a stepping stone for developers and mixed-reality experience creators wanting to get started on building content for the eventual “Apple Glasses” or “Apple Glass” which previous leaks have pegged as coming from 2023. They would be much more lightweight and affordable, it’s suggested, and target a more mainstream consumer audience.

As for the design, The Information says it saw internal images of what’s described as a “late-stage prototype” which showed similar styling to the AirPods Max headphones released in December 2020. That includes “a sleek, curved visor attached to the face by a mesh material and swappable headbands” seemingly borrowing the idea from the interchangeable components in the headphones. Those have swappable ear cups, for example, held in by magnets.

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