February 5, 2023

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How Apple’s mixed-reality headset will work

The Apple device will include a variation of the M2 chip found in the company’s latest Macs, as well as a dedicated processor for graphics and mixed-reality experiences. That second chip will be dubbed the Reality Processor, according to trademark applications filed by the tech giant.

But making the processors powerful enough brought another concern: having the device overheat while it’s on a user’s face. To address that problem, Apple made the decision to offload the battery from inside of the headset to an external pack. It rests in a user’s pocket and connects over a cable. Another tweak is the inclusion of a cooling fan like on high-end Macs.

The headset can last about two hours per battery pack, in line with rival products. The battery, however, is large: roughly the size of two iPhone 14 Pro Maxes stacked on top of each other, or about 6 inches tall and more than half an inch thick. Still, some internal prototypes for software development have a built-in battery and charge over USB-C.

Meta, in contrast, puts its batteries on the back of its headset in a way that helps balance the device on a person’s head. Apple’s approach may ultimately be less comfortable for users, especially if they’re watching a whole movie while wearing the headset. Some testers have complained that the product can be cumbersome, according to the people.

The relatively brief battery life—about 20 hours less than Apple’s latest MacBook Pro—could create its own hassles. If users want to watch multiple movies or play games for hours at a time, they may need to buy multiple batteries and frequently swap them out.

Apple has acknowledged those challenges internally, and it’s been trying to set realistic expectations for the product. One benefit of the device, the company believes, is that it could spur customers to visit Apple retail stores—not necessarily to buy the product, but to try it out. They may then purchase another device, such as an iPad or AirPods.

To show off the new headset, Apple is creating a “store within a store” concept—an area within its retail outlets dedicated to demonstrating the product. The company did something similar when it launched the Apple Watch, which is now central to a $41 billion division. 

The initial headset will be made from aluminum, glass and cushions—and be reminiscent of Apple’s $550 AirPods Max headphones. The product will have a curved screen on the front that can outwardly show a wearer’s eyes, with speakers on the sides and a headband that helps fit the device around a user’s head. 

That will differ from the mostly plastic design of rival products, which typically strap the device to the wearer with multiple bands.

The eye and hand tracking may end up being the most memorable element of the headset. As with its earlier big bets, Apple likes to include a groundbreaking interface that sets its products apart from competitors. With the iPod, it was the click wheel. With the iPhone and iPad, it was the multitouch approach. And with the Apple Watch, it was the Digital Crown.

Now Apple hopes the headset’s sci-fi-like interface will make its latest product a winner.

—Bloomberg News


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