Apple is expected to announce a mixed reality headset – its first brand-new product for eight years – at its annual event for developers.
The tech giant’s WWDC showcase is usually reserved for software reveals – notably the next major updates for its iPhones, iPads, and Macs – but this year fresh hardware is on the cards.
An Apple headset has long been rumoured, and reports suggest the company will finally unveil its first foray into an increasingly crowded field during Monday’s event.
It would be the firm’s first entirely new product since the Apple Watch debuted in 2015.
Hold up, what is ‘mixed reality’?
You will likely have come across virtual and augmented reality in recent years, and probably even tried them.
Virtual reality is all about placing you into an entirely digital world, cutting you off from the outside world, and putting everything from your living room shelves to your pet cat at risk.
It’s been a big year for these kinds of headsets – the PlayStation VR2 launched in February, while Meta has announced the Quest 3 will launch this autumn. Both are focused on gaming, and priced around £500.
Augmented reality instead places digital elements into the real world – you play around with this all the time on your phone through things like the Ikea app, Snapchat filters, and Pokemon Go.
Try augmented reality from Sky News:
Decorate your home with some festive fun
Put the King’s coronation crown in your living room
Mixed reality takes that concept further – rather than some swish digital furniture and pocket monsters simply being overlaid on to your surroundings, the idea is you’ll interact with them as if they were really there.
Imagine working on a virtual sculpture at your real desk, for example, or a surgeon-in-training practising a complex operation on a digital patient.
It sounds expensive…
Mixed reality has already proved to be an expensive proposition – Meta’s premium Quest Pro headset, which is more targeted towards industry and education than entertainment, launched at £1,499 last October.
After a poor critical reception and disappointing sales, with Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse pitch failing to move customers and investors alike, it has since dropped to a cool £999.
Apple has never been afraid of a hefty price tag, and reports suggest its headset will cost as much as $3,000 (£2,409), putting it way above the starting price of its phones, tablets, and computers.
Given that, and that it is being announced at WWDC, it will likely be targeted at professionals and developers at first, rather than the average customer.
What will Apple’s headset offer?
Bloomberg reports communication and productivity will be among the headset’s main use cases, and quoted a person who worked on the device as saying it’s a “status symbol” product.
It’s been tipped to boast 4K resolution images, full body motion tracking, half a dozen cameras to provide views of the outside world, and the same kind of powerful M2 chips seen in its Macs.
The headset is also expected to run its own operating system, so you can navigate via movements and your voice, rather than an adapted version of a familiar iPhone or Mac interface.
And just as Apple’s devices have separate App Stores, the headset will have its own, with bespoke versions of the software you’re used to on iPhone. Fingers crossed we also get terrifying full-scale versions of our Memoji avatars.
According to Bloomberg, Apple will release the headset – tentatively dubbed Reality Pro – in late 2023 or early 2024.
What else can we expect from the event?
WWDC will still dedicate plenty of time to existing products.
This year’s big iPhone update, iOS 17, will arrive in time for the next handset in September.
We already know about some of the new features coming, notably an accessibility option allowing users to create an artificial voice that sounds just like them.
It is aimed at people who suffer conditions that could mean they lose their ability to speak in future.
The biggest new software feature rumoured is a landscape mode for when your iPhone is charging, which would essentially turn it into a smart display, similarly to Google’s new Pixel Tablet. It could show things like calendar appointments at a glance, rather than just notifications or the time.
Updates to the iPhone’s software are often mirrored on the iPad, so the same feature could appear there too.
Macs and the Apple Watch should also get some attention – there are rumours that widgets, which have shaken up iPhone and iPad home screens in recent years, could come to the latter.
There’s also talk of a new MacBook Air, with a bigger size of 15 inches.
We don’t have to wait long to find out – WWDC 2023 kicks off at 6pm UK time on Monday.