Apple sees virtual reality headset as the next big thing

Apple’s development of virtual reality content and software tools is central to creating experiences that give the future headset its purpose. The last major new product, the Apple Watch, launched with about 3,000 apps, but struggled to take off because tech reviewers said few of those apps were useful† Similar shortcomings have persisted Meta’s Quest virtual reality headsetwhich surpassed more than 10 million sales last year as many consider it a gaming device.

From its original Macintosh to its iPad, Apple has pursued products that attract a wide variety of potential customers and have a variety of uses. It sold an estimated 240 million iPhones last year, accounting for about half of its total revenue of $366 billion. For the headset to be worthwhile, analysts said, it must have utilities that transcend the video game niche.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been talking about the potential of augmented reality for years. In 2016, he told investors that the company invested heavily in it and viewed it as a “great commercial opportunity.” Around that time, many employees on Apple’s campus read “Ready Player One,” a futuristic novel about virtual reality, and talked about the possibilities of creating Apple’s own mixed-reality world.

Apple hired an engineer from Dolby Technologies, Mike Rockwell, and assigned him to lead the effort. His early efforts to create an augmented-reality product were hampered by weak computing power, two people familiar with the project said. Continued challenges with its battery power have forced Apple to delay its release until next year, those folks said.

The augmented reality initiative has caused division within Apple. At least two members of the industrial design team said they had left the company, in part because of concerns about developing a product that could change the way people interact with each other. Such sensitivities have increased within the company amid growing public concern about children’s screen time

With Mr. Rockwell at the helm, the product would be one of the first to come from Apple under the leadership of its engineering team in place of co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, and his former chief of design, Jony Ive, who left the company in 2019† The Apple Watch project was led by Mr. Ive and his designers, who determined how it looked, worked and was marketed.

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