(Antfer) #1

◼ TECHNOLOGY Bloomberg Businessweek June 29, 2020


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engineering teams are still testing the device on
differentheadshapestofindtheidealfit.The
companyhasn’tsettledonpricing.Bywayofcom-
parison,theOculusQuestretailsfor$399,and
MicrosoftCorp.’senterprise-focusedHololens 2
mixed-realityheadsetandMagicLeapARgoggles
sellfor$3,500and$2,295,respectively.
N301wouldhaveitsownAppStore,witha
focusongaming,andtheabilitytostreamvideo
content,while alsoservingasa sortofsuper-
high-techcommunicationsdeviceforvirtualmeet-
ings.Siri,Apple’svoiceassistant,willcontrolboth

reputationforbeingsharp,smart,andeffective.
HehasthesupportofCraigFederighi’ssoftware-
development groupand JohnySrouji’s chip-
development unit, among others. The stakes are
high—Apple spends more than $15 billion a year
on research and development—and this isn’t the
first time it’s redirected huge resources to an ambi-
tious, potentially risky project.
Just months before Rockwell joined, the com-
pany set out to build an electric car to rival those
of Tesla Inc. Apple hired several hundred engineers
and reassigned even more internal staff. But by the
end of 2016, it had started laying off people, largely
abandoning development of a full vehicle in favor
of underlying self-driving technology. Inside the
company, the project was deemed a disaster.
Rockwell’s team is still in good standing, and,
while it collaborates with the rest of Apple, insid-
ers see it as enjoying an unusual degree of indepen-
dence. Based mostly in a Sunnyvale, Calif., office
park about a 15-minute drive from headquarters,
the TDG has its own hardware, software, opera-
tions, and content groups—staffed by some of the
company’s hottest talent.
As for the impasse between Rockwell and Ive,
Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook ultimately sided
with the design chief. Although the headset now
in development is less technologically ambitious
than originally intended, it’s pretty advanced. It’s
designed to feature ultrahigh-resolution screens
that will make it almost impossible for a user to
differentiate the virtual world from the real one.
A cinematic speaker system will make the experi-
ence even more realistic, people who have used
prototypes say. (The technology in the hub didn’t
go entirely to waste: Some is being recycled to
build the powerful processors Apple announced
this week for future Macs, replacing components
made by Intel Corp.)
Still, dispensing with the hub means graphics
won’t be as good as they might have been, and the
download speeds could be slower. It will also prob-
ably make the experience less lifelike than origi-
nally hoped. For Ive, who left last year after almost
three decades at the company, a more realistic
experience was potentially problematic: He didn’t
want Apple promoting technology that would take
people out of the real world. According to peo-
ple familiar with the matter, he preferred the con-
cept of the N421 glasses, which would keep users
grounded in reality while beaming maps and mes-
sages into their field of vision.
Prototypes of N301 look like a smaller Oculus
Quest, Facebook Inc.’s VR headset, with a mostly
fabric body but less plastic than the Quest. Apple’s


theheadsetandtheeventualglasses,thoughthe
headsetis alsobeingtestedwitha physicalremote.
Applehasreassignedsomeengineerswhowere
workingonSiri’sinterfacetoRockwell’steam.
Thedivisionhasrecentlylosta fewkeyplayers.
PeterMeier,whojoinedApplein 2015 fromGerman
ARstartupMetaioGmbH,leftlastyear.Former
DreamWorksAnimationLLCexecutiveIanRichter
switchedtoanotherareaofAppleinOctoberafter
almosttwoyearsonthejob.AndCodyWhite,who
helpeddevelopApple’sRealityKitsoftware,which
allowsdeveloperstoimplement3Drenderingin
augmented-realityappsfortheiPhoneandiPad,
quitinDecember.
Rockwell,whoseteamalsocontributestothe
kit,continuestopushforward.Appleannounced
updatedtoolsforiPhoneARappsatitsannual
developerconferenceonJune22.
Theactualhardwarewilltakelonger.Although
planscouldchange,inanall-handsmeetinglastfall,
Rockwellsaidthefirstheadsetmaybeannounced
nextyearandreleasedin2022.Applefanscan
expecttheARglasses by 2023 atthe earliest.
�MarkGurman

THE BOTTOM LINE The design goals for Apple’s virtual- and
augmented-reality headsets of the future have been modified after
differences of opinion between two top executives.

● Apple’s annual
R&D budget exceeds

$15b


Where Apple Has Made Its AR/VR Acquisitions

Faceshift

Face-tracking
technology

Emotient

Face-tracking
technology

Vrvana

VRheadset
technology

Metaio

AR
technology

Akonia
Holographics
ARlens
technology

IKinema

Visualeffects,
VR

SensoMotoric
Instruments
Eye-tracking
technology

NextVR

VRcontent
broadcasting
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

FlybyMedia

AR/VR
technology

DATA: BLOOMBERG REPORTING