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The tumultuous (love?) story between Jony Ive and Apple’s AR/VR headset


The Information publishes a series of reports telling the story of Apple’s mixed reality (AR/VR) headset, with the relationship between the device’s development team and Jony Ive, former head of design at Apple.

Jony Ive and Tim Cook during the presentation of the iPhone XR in 2018 // Source: Apple

This is the story of a virtual reality headset (or augmented reality, or mixed reality, we don’t know exactly yet) that hasn’t even seen the light of day yet. But the American media The Informationrelayed by Ars-Technicaalready traces the history of its development at Apple in a series of articles.

What to learn more about the technical problems, but also political which have enamelled its design, with disputes between the technical teams and Jony Ive, former head of design at Apple until his departure from the company in 2019.

Apple’s debut in augmented reality

The tumultuous history of this mysterious helmet actually dates back to the very beginning of the project. ” Apple’s mixed reality efforts began almost accidentally when the company bought a German AR startup called Metaio to use some of its tech on Project Titan, its self-driving car project. “, reports the information site. And to add that Tim Cook ” has had relatively little involvement with the product compared to others like the iPhone “. One of the sources of frustration was the fact that this Technology Development Group in charge of the development of the device did not have its offices at the headquarters of Apple in Cupertino.

A project that has really advanced with the hiring of the team leader of this AR / VR project: Micke Rockwell, former Dolby Laboratories. He himself put together a team that included Metaio co-founder Peter Meier as well as Apple Watch lead Fletcher Rothkopf.

A showdown between Jony Ive and the helmet development team

According to several sources familiar with the matter, including people who worked on this VR headset, there was a conflict of wills between the team. Technology Development Groupand Apple designer Jony Ive and his industrial design team.

The Information tells us that several demonstrations of augmented reality took place in 2016 at the board of directors of the apple brand. A tiny triceratops that grows before the eyes of its limbs, a room transformed into a forest were shown. The main “obstacle” was not this advice, but more Ive “ who oversaw both the industrial design and human interface teams at Apple“, remember Ars-Technica.

Rockwell has not only worked on the helmet during these long years. With his team, he designed and released ARKit in 2017, an app development suite that allowed developers to create augmented reality apps for iPhone and iPad. He would have used “technologies and techniques that could be adapted to a helmet for the future”.

Apple iOS 12 Arkit 2

For Ive, virtual reality “ separates users from the people and world that surround”. He even reportedly felt that VR headsets were « old-fashioned“. In response to this, the Technology Development Group came up with a slightly different concept: an outward-facing screen on the front of the headset that showed images of the user’s facial expressions and eyes to those around them. The wearer could see the people around them through the feed of an external camera », Reports Ars-Technica .

Jony Ive, an always preponderant opinion

At first, Rockwell and his team wanted the headphones to be plugged into a station that would deliver the power for maximum performance. The device was then designed for professional use (for creative people in particular). But Ive didn’t hear it that way” and wanted to make it a consumer product that consumers could take with them“. A mixed reality headset that would be light in short, and why not, an AR headset that would be a first step in replacing the iPhone.

Apple Mixed Reality Headset
Apple would work on a VR / AR headset // Source: Editing AppleTrack

A desire supported by the leaders of Apple. Although Jony Ive is now a consultant for Apple, he is no longer part of the internal teams, but he is apparently still supported and “ still plays an active role in the development of the helmet“.

A headache for the development teams who had to find an optimal way to make the homemade mixed reality headset work. All this while the work on the main chip was already done. “They had to find ways to combat the latency inherent in communication between the various chips in the device. They also designed the software assuming the base station project would come to fruition.“, highlightedArs-Technica. Rumors say that these glasses would be two to three years ahead of the competition in terms of power and that this helmet would be a concentrate of technologies.

We know a little more about Apple’s AR/VR headset

ForBloomberg,the launch of the helmet is expected soon. We can actually think that Apple would announce the helmet at the next WWDC, or at least a software development kit for its destination. An advanced version was reportedly shown to Apple’s board of directors recently. The company would also have accelerated the development of the software part of the helmet, a derivative of iOS calledroswith arfor reality.

This augmented reality and/or virtual reality helmet would be equipped with 14 cameras. Some are outward, others inward. What to put in place this system of “transparency» which would allow users to see what is happening outside the helmet, but also to be seen by people around. The Meta Quest already lets people around you see what’s going on in the headset.

Body movements would be tracked in order to create a 3D avatarcartoony(which might be similar to iPhone Memojis) for metaverse purposes, for calls orgaming. According toThe Informationn, more photorealistic avatars would have been tested, but the limited processing capabilities did not allow them to be used smoothly.

Apple headphones MR
Source: The Illustration via The Verge

Yes “Apple originally planned to launch the headset in 2019“, it is likely to be announced next June during WWDC, for a launch later this year or early 2023. If we obviously do not yet know the price of the helmet, a report by Ming-Chui Kuo talks about a price around 1000 dollars.

2022 is indeed a pivotal year for the brand, with an upside-down iPhone lineup and even more powerful Macs, in addition to the potential announcement of this mixed reality headset.


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