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Apple’s highly anticipated AR/VR headset, known as the Reality Pro, is reportedly facing significant compromises compared to the company’s original vision for the device, according to a recent report by Mark Gurman for Bloomberg.
The report, based on information from multiple sources close to the project, also reveals that some top Apple executives are skeptical about the product and have distanced themselves from it. Additionally, Apple plans to sell the headset at nearly breakeven cost, which is a departure from its usual high-margin strategy.
Apple has been working on two augmented reality products simultaneously: the Reality Pro headset and Apple Glasses. However, Gurman’s report suggests that Apple CEO Tim Cook had initially prioritized Apple Glasses, but development efforts gradually shifted towards the headset.
Over the course of seven years, the device has deviated significantly from Cook’s original vision. What was once conceived as lightweight, unobtrusive eyeglasses designed for all-day wear has transformed into a headset resembling ski goggles that requires a separate battery pack.
There are even doubts about whether Apple Glasses will ever be released, as only around 10% of the resources dedicated to the Reality Pro project have been allocated to the Glasses project, codenamed N421.
The report indicates that Apple is at least four years away from launching stand-alone glasses, if they ever come to fruition. Insiders reveal that engineers joked about working on the seemingly hopeless N421 just to appease Cook. By 2019, little progress had been made on developing a viable plan for AR glasses.
As time progressed, compromises became necessary to make the Reality Pro device feasible. The product’s design reflects the company’s struggle, shared by others in the mixed-reality headset market, to solve fundamental technological challenges.
Features such as functioning as an external Mac monitor and enabling multiperson video calls are less advanced than Apple initially intended, although the company hopes to improve them. Apple had also aimed to integrate the battery into the headset but had to compromise by designing a separate iPhone-sized battery pack that attaches to the user’s pocket via a power cord, prioritizing weight reduction and prevention of overheating.
Another departure from Apple’s typical approach is the plan to sell the Reality Pro headset at a breakeven cost, in contrast to the company’s usual 37% margin. The report suggests that Apple even considered selling the product at a loss initially to establish a foothold in the market.
However, recouping the development costs, which exceeded $1 billion annually, is unlikely in the near future. With over a thousand engineers working on the project, the financial investment has been substantial.
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Notably, top Apple executives, including Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President for Software Engineering, have maintained skepticism and distance from the headset, according to insiders. Johny Srouji, Senior Vice President for Hardware Technologies, has privately expressed doubts, comparing the project to a science experiment. Tim Cook himself has been described as “distant” from the project, occasionally frustrating the team with delayed decision-making.
While Cook is expected to present the Reality Pro headset at the upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote next month, his involvement in product development has been limited to demonstrations, without exerting strong opinions on specific details. This approach, perceived as indecisiveness, has caused delays and concerns about resource allocation within the project.