Apple, if the whispers are to be believed, is working on its own virtual reality headset.
We’re sure there are a tonne of projects which never made it outside Apple’s secret Aladdin’s cave of gadgets-that-never-made-it, but that’s not going to stop us from dreaming about what the future could hold.
So then. What might an Apple-centric VR experience look like?
What’s in a name?
Let’s start off easy. What might this new-fangled gogglebox be called? We quite like the sound of iSee, but if the Apple Watch and Apple TV are anything to go by, the ‘i’ prefix won’t be making an appearance.
The more likely option is something more plain, like Apple VR. Although seeing as we’re talking about a product that might never even hit shelves, Stuff reviews editor Rob Leedham’s suggestion of iKnowWhatYouDidLastSummer is as good a guess as any at this stage.
Design done right
Even if you’re a rabid Android fanboy with a child called Google, you’ll have to (perhaps grudgingly) admit that if there’s one thing Apple nails time and time again, it’s design. Minus that questionable Apple PowerCase of course.
While Apple won’t be the first to the headset party then, we expect it’ll walk through the door fashionably late as usual, dressed in the swankiest outfit.
Current headsets like the Rift and the Vive are technologically impressive, but they’re not going to snap up a pile of design awards any time soon.
We imagine that Apple’s waiting to see how the market will pan out, and we also reckon Sir Jony Ive has been patiently waiting in the wings for technology to get slimmer and lighter, allowing him to do what he does best – design a product that looks and feels fantastic.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of design:
VR or AR?
Apple could go two ways with its hypothetical headset. Augmented, or virtual reality. If we had to bet on it, we’d go for the latter.
Virtual reality is the safer technology – we’ve got the screens, the power, and established software to provide a fun, comfortable user experience.
Augmented reality is still in its infancy in comparison, with Microsoft’s HoloLens remaining the most polished and exciting example. It’s still very much in a prototype phase however, and we definitely expect Apple to go for the safer, more established VR experience.
Aside from our guesswork, there’s also an actual honest-to-goodness Apple patent, filed in 2007, which outlines “”a goggle system for providing a personal media viewing experience to a user” with “optical components for generating the media display, and a lens on which the generated media displayed is provided to the user.”
If that doesn’t point to virtual reality, we’ll eat our keyboards.
The sketch from the patent (shown above) looks more like a pair of ski goggles, but given the 2007 filing date, we’ll let them off.
Apple could go one of two ways – a standalone headset powered by a Mac/MacBook, or a shell unit that cradles an iPhone.
The first option provides more power and leaves room for a sleeker design, while the second option is more accessible for most people, at the expense of less power and a presumably clunkier Gear VR-like design.
An iPhone-powered headset shell could very well be the likelier option, as far more people have iPhones than Macs powerful enough to provide an Rift-level experience.
The fact that it will encourage users to snap up the latest, most powerful VR-friendly iPhone won’t do Apple’s bank balance any harm either.
Interestingly, Apple has already been awarded a patent for a “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display” (shown above), so the iPhone-route is looking more likely at this time.
You’ve got the headset, now what?
It’s all very well having a shiny new toy to strap to your face, but if there’s nothing on their to enjoy, it’s worthless.
Apple though, is actually in a very strong position to offer unique content which stands out from the competition. Apple Music has already shown that it can offer new albums and exclusive content, so it’s not crazy to think that it will offer Apple VR users access to exclusive 360-degree music videos and live streaming from gigs.
It’s already taken its first steps too. Last year Apple released a 360-degree VR U2 music video, which required use of a third-party app to view.
We can definitely see Apple offering similar content to iPhone and Apple TV users (including a virtual front-row seat at future Keynotes) in future, and is one thing that will really set Apple’s service apart from its competitors.
User generated content
Apple’s big on photos, and we’d almost guarantee that a new 360-degree video shooting mode will be available on newer iPhones to let users stitch together their own fully immersive virtual worlds.
If we’re really thinking outside the box, Apple could also sell a separate 360-degree FactTime camera, letting entire familes get together for virtual gatherings.
Yes, it’s a stretch, but when nothing’s certain, there’s no harm in letting your imagination frolic.
The iOS developer community still remains the strongest when it comes to quality, choice, and number of apps, and this will be a huge advantage for Apple when launch day rolls around.
Despite arriving later than other VR headsets, we wouldn’t be too surprised if the total number of Apple VR games and apps soon surpassed those on competing platforms – though they’ll all need a newer iPhone with a 2K screen and A11 processor to run properly (we assume), of course.
Don’t forget the salt
It all sounds lovely (and vague), but it’s the best we can do at this early stage. Given the rumours and Apple’s current strengths however, a VR headset sporting its logo is actually fairly likely.
So remember – you heard it all here first folks. Unless of course none of this is true. Then please do your best to forget the past five minutes, and don’t get upset in a few months from now if your pre-prepared Apple VR cupboard remains empty.