Is Apple Postponing Its AR Headset a Smart Move, or a Desperate One?

According to a report by Bloomberg, Apple has suspended the development process of its augmented reality (AR) glasses as the brand has run into technical difficulties. In the increasingly competitive AR/VR glasses industry, this may be a conservative move by Apple to preserve its leading reputation and position in the industry.

For the past two years, there have been rumors circulating that Apple is planning to launch a lightweight pair of AR glasses. Supposedly these would be similar in style to the glasses people wear every day. Unlike virtual reality (VR), AR glasses are not designed to create immersive, wholly virtual scenarios for users. Instead, by displaying digital information on the glasses’ lenses while letting users remain aware of their actual surroundings, AR further extends the accessibility and convenience of real-world information for users. 

Yet, according to the latest update from Bloomberg, Apple has encountered technical bottlenecks in the process of developing the AR Glasses, resulting in a  delay in the release schedule. These alleged technical difficulties mainly stem from the fact that Apple has so far been unable to develop core hardware that offers the same performance and sufficient power support as the iPhone. Earlier, Bloomberg sources said Apple’s AR glasses would be released in 2025 at the earliest. It seems unlikely we’ll get an updated release timeline in the near future. 

Instead, Apple will focus its resources on developing its mixed-reality headset, which it has been working on for seven years. Bloomberg’s sources indicate that although some of Apple’s AR division is still working on the AR glasses, the majority are now focusing on the mixed-reality headset, which is more likely to be released sooner. Apple plans to release its first AR headset at around $3,000, and will release a more affordable product with similar capabilities after that to broaden its consumer base.

AR smart glasses are currently gaining momentum amid runaway growth in the consumer market. Analysts from Infiniti Research estimate that the global AR/VR smart glasses market value will grow by $7,292.59 million over the period of 2023 to 2027. This indicates that more and more general consumers are becoming interested in this industry. Likewise there are more smart glasses manufacturers around the world who are taking note of the potential of this industry. It could be that 2023 will see the AR industry burst onto the global scene, while stimulating more competition in the process.

Just in early January 2023, Meta announced its acquisition of smart lensmaker Luxexcel, marking its own steps toward creating highly competitive AR glasses. The current leader in the AR industry is arguably Chinese AR glasses company, Nreal, which sold 100,000 pairs of glasses in 2022, the first AR brand in the world to reach this milestone. Meanwhile, Chinese smartphone maker Oppo just partnered with a Chinese startup Meta-Bounds to reveal its lightweight smart Oppo Air Glass 2, which weighs less than 50 grams and has set the new benchmark of the lightest smart glasses ever.Moreover, brands such as Google, Rokid, TCL and Rayban have also been tipped to make new moves in AR Glasses development in 2023, making the industry more competitive than ever before.

In a Forbes piece, Charlie Fink said that the “next big thing for XR is not VR, or AR as we generally think of spatial computing today. It is using XR optics technology to create a screen extender for smartphones.” That’s what Apple was trying to achieve with its AR Glasses, but as things stand now, that “big thing” won’t happen for a while, or at least Apple Glasses won’t be part of the story anytime soon.

In an interview with 9to5Mac, Apple analyst Ming-chi Kuo said he believes Apple’s device is “a game-changer for the headset industry” and its mixed-reality glasses will be “the most complicated product Apple has ever designed.” Perhaps the delay in the release of Apple’s AR glasses was not only due to technical issues, but also to the avoidance of competition. Apple is more likely to be able to maintain its image as an industry leader with greater certainty in the relatively less competitive MR headset market. That’s compared to investing heavily in the development of AR glasses that are vastly different from the previous leaks (indicating a lack of direction), or lag the specs of up-and-comers in the AR glasses industry. 

It could be that Apple is deferring the development of its own AR glasses and instead devoting itself to the mixed-reality headset, thereby having to postpone the performance upgrade of other Apple products. Whether this step is wise or not, we will have to wait until the mixed-reality headset is really out there to know.

About The Author