Inside Apple’s secretive AR and VR headset plans

In late 2018, Apple was a few years into its plan to build a powerful headset with both virtual- and augmented-reality capabilities when things shifted dramatically, according to Bloomberg News’ Mark Gurman. Jony Ive, then the company’s design chief, objected to some fundamental aspects of the product and urged Apple to change course.

Apple patent application illustration
Apple patent application illustration

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg News:

The headset was to be the first major launch from the company since the Apple Watch and the debut device from the Technology Development Group, a secretive unit devoted to VR and AR. The TDG is led by an equally under-the-radar executive, Mike Rockwell. After stints at Dolby Laboratories Inc. and media-editing software company Avid Technology Inc., Rockwell, 53, was hired in 2015 by Dan Riccio, Apple’s top hardware executive…

He started building his team in late 2015, and what grew into a 1,000-strong group of engineers went to work developing two products aimed at upending the VR and AR segments. A device code-named N301 would take the best of both VR and AR—the first an all-encompassing digital experience for gaming and consuming content, and the second a tool for overlaying information such as text messages and maps in front of a viewer. The other device, N421, a lightweight pair of glasses using AR only, is more complex…

Ive balked at the prospect of selling a headset that would require a separate, stationary device for full functionality. He encouraged Rockwell and his team to redevelop N301 around the less powerful technology that could be embedded entirely in the device. Rockwell pushed back, arguing that a wireless hub would enable performance so superior that it would blow anything else on the market out of the water. The standoff lasted for months…

Tim Cook ultimately sided with the design chief. Although the headset now in development is less technologically ambitious than originally intended, it’s pretty advanced. It’s designed to feature ultra-high-resolution screens that will make it almost impossible for a user to differentiate the virtual world from the real one. A cinematic speaker system will make the experience even more realistic, people who have used prototypes say. (The technology in the hub didn’t go entirely to waste: Some is being recycled to build the powerful processors Apple plans to announce next week for its Macs, replacing components made by Intel Corp.)

MacDailyNews Take: There is much more in the full article, including a breakdown of Rockwell’s AR/VR Executives and timelines of projects and launch timeframes, so give it a read.


  1. The more immersive experience sounds more awesome, but then it may have cost more; plus, hardware and software are marching on. Won’t be long before the smaller device will be able to do the heavier lifting.

    1. Absolutely. The idea of needing to insert your iPhone into a headset is what killed the Samsung Gear VR – it was especially dumb when your phone rang in the headset, I mean that was really, really crazy. Having a separate device is a winner, I’ve no doubt Ive was right on that one.

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