Bloomberg: Apple working on AR headset with custom OS & CPU for 2020 launch

Bloomberg on Wednesday said that Apple has tasked its growing team of several hundred engineers from across the company with the development of a standalone augmented reality headset under the umbrella code name of “T288” for a possible launch in 2020.

The team is led by Mike Rockwell, who previously ran engineering at Dolby Labs.

The accessory is said to operate independently of an iPhone as it’ll use its own display and an Apple-designed system-on-a-package like in Apple Watch that combines the CPU, graphics cores, an AI chip, RAM and other components into a smaller area than standard chips.

The AR headset will be powered by Apple’s bespoke “rOS” software (Reality Operating System) based on iOS. Author Mark Gurman has learned that Geoff Stahl, formerly a software manager for games and graphics at Apple, is one of the directors of the “rOS” group.

From the report:

Apple hasn’t finalized how users will control the headset and launch apps, but is investigating touch panels, voice-activation via Siri and head gestures. Engineers are prototyping a range of applications, from mapping and texting to more advanced features including virtual meeting rooms and 360-degree video playback.

The company has discussed pairing the headset with its own version of the App Store, where users would be able to download content, just as they do with the iPhone, Watch, Apple TV and Mac.

Engineers have been testing various components of the new system using HTC’s Vive headsets. “The development timeline is very aggressive and could still change,” Gurman noted.

They are also working on an Oculus Gear VR-like headset that uses an iPhone’s screen, cameras and chipsets. That device, however, won’t ship to consumers as engineers will be using it for internal testing of augmented reality apps next year.

The report goes on to note that Apple is readying an enhanced ARKit framework for building augmented reality experiences for iPhone and iPad, which debuted this year in iOS 11. Slated for release in 2018, the improved ARKit will support persistent tracking and other tools that will make it easier to create augmented reality games for multiple players.

The report came hot on the heels of yesterday’s story by Nikkei Asian Review alleging that Taiwanese supplier Catcher, which builds metal casings for iPhones, iPads and MacBooks, has been contracted by Apple to make components for an augmented reality product.

Catcher chairman Allen Horng said in an earnings conference on Tuesday:

Based on what we have learned, new augmented reality products need to look good and be light enough to wear. That makes the casings for such device very complicated to manufacture and there are still a lot of challenges to overcome currently.

He did not mention Apple by name.

The Financial Times said in March that Apple was stepping up efforts in augmented reality eyewear with “several different kinds” of augmented reality headset prototypes being tested.

Would you buy an Apple AR headset? And how likely is Apple to release such a product?

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