The long-rumored Apple VR headset is expected to launch later this year, and when it does, it could arrive without an accessory that almost every rival device relies on: controllers.
While devices like the Meta Quest Pro and its predecessor, the Oculus Quest 2, offer phone-free hand tracking options, their controllers remain the primary way users interact with the virtual world; While there are several apps that support manual tracking, there are many more experiences that require users to interact with the world using their controllers.
But Apple seems keen to ditch cumbersome phones, with Bloomberg’s (opens in a new tab) Mark Gurman, who has a solid track record with Apple leaks, suggests that users will interact with Apple’s virtual reality interface using their hands and eyes.
According to Gurman, Apple headset users will look at the app they want to open and then reach over and clasp their thumb and forefinger together to open it. Also, while Apple is apparently still developing a virtual keyboard for users to type on, at launch, headset users will have to rely on the Siri voice assistant to convert their speech into text to type.
However, none of this is to say that you won’t be able to pair external hardware with Apple headphones. Apple is the king of interoperability between its devices, and this headset won’t buck the trend: It’ll reportedly be able to serve as a second monitor for your Mac computer, and you’ll be able to use the keyboard on your iPhone and iPad for typing.
As with all leaks and rumours, we have to take Gurman’s claims with a grain of salt, although, as mentioned, he is quite reliable and the information is based on the fact that we’ve heard very few details about the headphones. If the device is to be released this year, and with drivers, we should have heard some design details or specs about them by now; Beyond the bizarre patent though, we haven’t heard anything, while we already know quite a bit about the headset itself, which may suggest that it is, in fact, controller-less.
Analysis: A manual tracking update is in the offing
If you’ve used manual tracking on a VR headset, you might be a bit concerned that Apple’s headset will rely entirely on it. While I was impressed with the version of the feature employed by Meta’s Quest Pro, and even its older headsets like the Quest 2, the tool isn’t as competent as I’d like; very few apps currently support it, and the tracking isn’t accurate enough to get rid of drivers entirely.
However, I think Apple’s VR setup could give its version of the tool an edge, and that’s thanks to its use of eye tracking.
I found that manual tracking on Meta’s Quest devices has more problems in the menus. If you’re in a game and you’re going to pick up an item, it works great, but by the time you have to point and interact with a menu from a distance, things can start to feel lackluster. It looks like Apple’s headphones will solve this inaccuracy problem with eye tracking: Rather than simply relying on user gestures, the device can better infer the user’s intentions by using where they are looking as an additional data point.
We’ll have to wait and see exactly how Apple’s VR headset performs when it’s finally unveiled later this year, but if its hand-tracking is an update on what’s come before, I hope Meta and others roll out updates to their systems, at least. those with eye tracking, like the Quest Pro.
The XR space isn’t just a battle between Apple and Meta, of course. Check out our hands-on experience with the HTC Vive XR Elite and our roundup of all the VR, AR, and MR headsets at CES 2023 to better understand what 2023 has in store for the metaverse.