A few weeks ago, Apple announced that Dan Riccio, the longtime hardware engineer, will be stepping down to focus on a “new project” within the company. According to yet another report on Bloomberg, based on sources with knowledge of Apple’s plans today, the project Riccio has focused his energies on is Apple’s upcoming augmented reality, virtual reality or mixed reality headset.
AR headset development at Apple appears to have had a problem under current project lead Mike Rockwell, though the report doesn’t pinpoint exactly what hurdles have arisen. While Rockwell will remain responsible for day-to-day work on the project, Riccio will provide “ultimate oversight” over the company’s AR/VR efforts, which are said to involve “more than a thousand engineers”.
Riccio had already handed over top management of most current consumer products such as the iPhone to a director named John Ternus. Apple has announced that Ternus will replace Riccio as general head of hardware engineering. The latest news indicates that he has also handed over the development of new camera and display technology to Johny Srouji, the director who led the design and engineering of Apple Silicon.
Apple is reportedly working to do the same with displays as it does with processors: developing its own high-quality components that would replace the components Apple buys from other suppliers like LG or Samsung.
But despite these other moving parts, AR is a top priority in new product development. Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously said he believes AR has the potential to be a watershed moment on a par with the iPhone for Apple, and an anticipated rivalry with Facebook in that space has been an undercurrent of the recent privacy feud between the two tech giants.
Last week, The Information cited several sources close to Apple to claim that Apple is working on an ultra-high-end 8K VR headset that could cost $3,000. To date, most of Apple’s publicly visible work on XR has been AR, not VR. Cupertino is steadily building ARKit, a developer API that makes it possible to create AR experiences using the cameras and sensors on iPhones and iPads.
Apple has also talked about VR. While Cook says he believes AR is the more transformative technology, there have been talks and documents with developers about supporting VR in the company’s Metal Graphics API, and the company has partnered with Valve to develop support for SteamVR headsets. Adding Macs around the launch of the iMac Pro.
It’s too early to say what Apple’s first headset might look like. Although The Information called it a VR headset, the headset also supports high-quality recording of the surrounding world and displaying it to the user, so AR is probably still part of the plan. It’s possible that Apple is relying on some evolution of its SteamVR support as it develops tools for developers to create VR experiences as well, and it’s also possible that this expensive headset is primarily intended for use by developers and professionals. .
In any case, Riccio is now in charge of getting future XR projects out of the lab and into the users’ homes. The VR headset report said we could see that first model sometime in 2022.