John Gruber vs. Wayne Ma on Apple's unreal headset

From Gruber's "Knee-Jerk Reactions and Thoughts Regarding The Information’s Latest Report on Apple’s Upcoming Headset" posted Tuesday on Daring Fireball:

Wayne Ma has a new report for The Information ($) on Apple’s widely-expected AR/VR headset. (MacRumors has a summary.) Some quick reactions:

Ma: As of last year, the headset used an external battery pack tethered by cable as opposed to a battery integrated into the headband. The design choice has been controversial among Apple’s engineers given the company’s preference for cable-free designs.

Gruber: This sounds clunky as hell to me. I think it’s already a huge ask to expect users to strap on a headset to use this platform. The history of personal computing has been in the direction of ever more seamless dipping in and out when using new devices. Think about how you can, if you want, just glance at your phone. Pick it up, glance, put it down. The Apple Watch is designed entirely around the idea of just occasionally glancing at it. A VR headset cannot be just dipped into and out of, even if the battery is self contained. An external battery pack tethered by a cable is another level of hassle. The whole point of AirPods is that wearing a device on your head that’s tethered to a cable kind of sucks. I’m in no way prejudging Apple’s headset — which I know very little about — but a battery pack tethered via a cable sounds to me like a deal-breaker. Either Ma is wrong, Apple is about to jump the shark, or this device is going to be so utterly compelling that a tethered battery is worth the hassle...

Ma: Apple’s headset is also expected to be far more expensive than most of the company’s other devices, as well as other VR headsets: It has discussed pricing it around $3,000 or more depending on its configuration, according to four people with knowledge of the conversations.

Gruber: It was widely reported in the run-up to the iPad’s debut that it would start at $1,000, but in fact started at just $500. But even if off by a factor of 2, $1,500 would be pricey. If it really does cost $3,000, I don’t think that’s a deal-breaker, but it’d be a sign that the platform is still years away from large-scale adoption...

Ma: The headset has inward-facing displays for each eye and a large outward-facing display on the front of the device. The external display can show the facial expressions of the person wearing the headset, along with other types of imagery, to people around the user, which is meant to reduce the isolation users might otherwise feel when wearing the device.

Gruber: This sounds cringe-y to me. Again, I’m not prejudging something I haven’t seen. But I lack the imagination to see how this could be anything but weird...

Ma: People who have worked on the headset say Apple doesn’t appear to have focused much on gaming — for example, it isn’t expected to release a dedicated gaming controller, at least not yet.

Gruber: If not gaming, then what’s the point?

Ma: Apple sees videoconferencing as a potential killer app for the headset, enabling digital avatars that accurately mimic a user’s facial and body movements.

Gruber: No one is going to buy a $3,000 headset for videoconferencing...

Gruber's summary: This headset project is very much real and, I believe, very much shipping this year. But the fundamental question remains: What’s the point? Think back to Steve Jobs’s presentation announcing the original iPad — the nut of the whole keynote was Jobs explaining where the iPad might fit between an iPhone and MacBook. If it didn’t serve some tasks not just a little but a lot better than either an iPhone or Mac, there was no point to the iPad. The same is true for this headset. And if it costs $3,000 and/or requires a tethered battery strapped around your waist, the “this better be an awesome experience” bar is raised even higher.

My take: I've read Ma's detailed reporting in The Information.  Like Gruber, I lack the imagination to see how this becomes a successful Apple product with mass appeal. I'm not saying it can't happen. I just can't see it yet.

10 Comments

  1. Greg Lippert said:
    Based on Ma’s reporting and that horrific image, if Apple was to release THAT product with THOSE tentpole features, I’m selling my stock.

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    January 4, 2023
  2. Tommo_UK said:
    As if Apple would show the finished product off to anyone who might discuss it with the press.“

    “Much debate amongst Apple engineers” my butt. Prototype would have external battery pack because it allows core functionality to be developed without battery optimisation once the design and feature set have been locked in.

    Then they’ll spend another year at least trying to reduce power consumption and optimising the PMU to incorporate it on the SoC.

    I think the Watch Ultra and it’s battery, and amazing battery life and power saving features, is a test bed for the headset if it ever appeared for consolidation of the technology needed to make any Apple headset not look like you’re wearing a massive tampon around your head with a battery pack attached to the chord (with apologies to anyone offended my use of the word tampon).

    In charge my Ultra every 3 days now. Compared to my previous Watch it’s a revelation. If the headset ever appears expect it to take its cue from Ultra technology and the ability to scale up or down power consumption depending on what use it is being put to in real time.

    When or if a headset is launched I expect battery developments and optimisation to also lead to FaceTime calls from your Watch and being able to snap selfies with it using a front facing camera.

    3
    January 4, 2023
  3. Jerry Doyle said:
    “…. I know very little about — but a battery pack tethered via a cable sounds to me like a deal-breaker.”

    Another deal-breaker if the rumor is correct, is the $3,000 price point.

    “…. Apple’s headset will allow people who wear glasses to magnetically clip in custom prescription lenses….. So glasses-wearers will need to spend more — on top of $3,000? — just to see the displays?”

    Oh, my Lord!

    The more rumors I hear and read about Apple’s forthcoming headset the less excited I become. I was excited about glass and AR. I don’t want a friggin’ headset! I desire stylish glasses that allow me to move about in my world experiencing more fully my activities of daily living through AR enhancements. Another deal-breaker if the rumor is correct is the $3,000 price point. Even I with discretionary monies will not shell out $3,000 for a newly introduced device that demands more of my limited time.

    I am in PED’s camp lacking imagination seeing how this purported project materializes anywhere close to something successful involving mass appeal. We all know that Apple avoids playing to niche groups. I too, don’t see success here in what is presented.

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    January 4, 2023
  4. Fred Stein said:
    Recalling what Tim Cook said to Katy Huberty about new products, Ma’s rumors don’t pass.

    Apple surely builds prototype 3D immersive devices to gain understanding. That may explain why we’ve heard rumors over the years.

    Apple and TSMC seem ready to ship 3n silicon this year. That’s a pre-requisite.

    2
    January 4, 2023
  5. Alan Trerise said:
    Reminds me of the birth of the personal computer. “ Nobody’s going to spend $1000’s for a machine to balance their checkbook.“

    Gruber’s comparisons of the goggles to current iPhone and Apple Watch also reminds me of the comparisons of the PC to the calculators of the day.

    For me $3000 and a corded battery pack is not a dealbreaker.

    1
    January 4, 2023
  6. Gregg Thurman said:
    I’ve tried and I’ve tried to see the value in an AR/VR headset. I think I have a pretty good imagination, but I JUST CAN’T DO IT.

    2
    January 4, 2023
    • Fred Stein said:
      Totally agree, upvoted.

      If they aren’t targeting gaming, no way. One can image gamers buying a $1000 cordless device. Gamers spend heavily, as in the $$ and time. Although that’s a good sized niche, its not big enough, nor important enough for Apple.

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      January 4, 2023
  7. Neal Guttenberg said:
    Lots of speculation about this device and I believe it has changed over time as well. I am waiting to see if and when it is announced before passing judgement. Apple has transformed several spaces with new devices that brought with them significantly improved functionality. I will wait and see what Apple comes up with. Even if it is expensive, I might dip in to buy as part of market research, since I have a position in Apple.

    3
    January 4, 2023
  8. John Blackburn said:
    Depending on how usefully a pair of glasses enhanced reality, $3000 would be no more a barrier than the cost of a car.

    “Nobody is going to buy a $30,000 car…to get groceries……to get a haircut…to get to work…”

    3
    January 4, 2023
  9. Thomas Larkin said:
    I agree with your sentiment.

    I don’t know what the current technology can and cannot do (haven’t actually tried it), but I wonder how close we are to having a device that can both (1) provide enhanced night vision while driving, boating or hiking (when it doesn’t really matter how you look) and, maybe the equivalent of tinted glass while driving into the sun, with ‘on screen’ information in one’s field of vision both directing and alerting you, and, (2) an ability to provide the true holo-deck experience for multiple people (matched to fit your room size). In my mind, those core functionalities would make it more than just a niche market, and provide for lots of use cases beyond gaming, particularly after a generation or two.

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    January 4, 2023

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