Next Monday will see Apple’s worldwide developers conference kick off, and with it one of the company’s two most important annual press events.
Typically, the keynote at WWDC (or “dub dub”) is a software-focused affair, previewing the next versions of iOS, macOS and so on for an audience of developers who need to get to grips with the updates before their launch in the autumn. It’s balanced out by the hardware-focused events oriented around each year’s iPhone launch, since Apple still likes to play the game of announcing and shipping its top-tier products in short orders.
This year is shaping up to be different. Unless something changes at the last minute – which, given the WWDC keynotes have been prerecorded annually since 2020, is as I type this, unlikely – we will finally see Apple’s long-planned VR/AR/XR headset for the very first time. The chicken-and-egg problem of new software platforms always throws a spanner in the works for companies like Apple: do you sell a product with no apps, or do you give third-party developers the lead time to offer something on release day, and lose the element of surprise? In this case, Apple’s likely to pick the latter option, in part because the element of surprise is mostly lost already.
If even half of the detail we’ve heard about the forthcoming headset is true, it’s going to be a rare example of Apple releasing something that feels genuinely surprising, rather than a refined version of a product that is already on the market. Key points include:
A tethered battery pack, designed to sit in the user’s back pocket, to ease the tradeoff between power and performance in the one hand and weight and comfort in the other.
A screen on the front of the headset, designed solely to show the user’s expressions to the outside world, with the aim of making it more comfortable to interact with people wearing the device.
A focus on “passthrough” use, where a camera on the front of the screen shows the outside world to the wearer, with apps and features superimposed on top.
And, most importantly of all, a price tag of about $3,000.
That last point needs to come with a massive grain of salt, of course. Unlike hardware details, which can leak from the physical requirements of a massive international supply chain, a price can be changed up until the last