Featuring dual 8K displays, Apple’s VR and AR capable headset has been codenamed T288

As reported by CNET, Apple is planning to release a new virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) capable headset in 2020. With its new immersive product, the Cupertino-based tech giant is hoping to generate the same levels of excitement last seen with the release of the original iPhone.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that Apple held secret meetings with AR parts suppliers at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 in Las Vegas. It was previously believed that Apple could be planning to reveal AR glasses later this year. Exciting products from other manufacturers such as the $200 Oculus Go, fuelled hopes that AR could become mainstream this year in the same way that the iPhone transformed peoples' perceptions of smartphones upon its release in 2006.

Why has VR/AR failed to resonate with consumers?
Despite frequently being touted as the next hot tech trend, VR/AR has largely failed to resonate with consumers. Although a report from CCS Insight estimates that consumers will purchase over 22 million VR and AR headset and glasses this year, VR/AR is far from mainstream. This is despite heavy investment from the likes of Samsung, Google and Facebook.

Is Apple becoming more than just a phone company?
In the first sign that Apple is finally expanding beyond its iPhones, project T288 will be the first headset manufactured by a major consumer electronics company to support both VR and AR. Apple’s AR resource kit, the ARKit, shows that Apple can promote innovation in both of these fields.

However, Apple faces stiff competition from the likes of HTC and Oculus. Given that Oculus has already presented a ‘Go’ headset at a price point of just $200, it’s difficult to predict quite how Apple’s T288 will compare with Oculus’ as-yet unknown 2020 line up.

We know that Apple is seriously trying to move beyond their iPhone-centric eco-system. According to Mirabaud analyst Neil Campling, Apple is likely to discontinue the iPhone X this year. This indicates that Apple quickly needs to move beyond smartphone sales. Over the past couple of years, Apple has begun acquiring firms that specialize in VR and AR-related technology. Apple has acquired expression analysis startup Emotient, the AR startup Metaio and Faceshift; the real-time motion capture firm. While some of these firm’s tech has undoubtedly been put to use in Apple’s Animoji glyphs and Face ID systems, the T288 project shows that VR-AR headsets could be their primary purpose and use moving into the future.

What do we know about the new headset?
The new project – codenamed T288 – will feature double the resolution of today’s most advanced headsets with 8k displays in both eyes. According to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, AR allows the user to be “more present” and thus has “bigger possibilities” than VR alone. As outlined in CNET’s detailed report, the T288 headset will be ‘untethered” from a computer or smartphone. No matter how you feel about the lackluster innovation in the VR and AR space thus far, this new headset is guaranteed to generate excitement.

Apple’s T288 headset is rumored to be a standalone product like Samsung’s Gear VR or Google’s Daydream View. According to The Verge, cameras will be built into the headset in order to detect the surround areas. The T288 headset will connect with a box containing the Apple processor and other hardware via 60GHz wireless ‘WiGig’ technology. CNET described the power of this new Apple processor as exceeding anything available on today’s marketplace.

How does the T288 compare against the competition?
Apple isn’t the first company to develop an 8K VR headset – that honor belongs to Pimax. However, Pimax’s backers have yet to receive headsets, despite the company successfully funding a Kickstarter campaign and receiving pledges in excess of $4.2 million as of the current time of writing.

The proposed 8K resolution of Apple’s T288 compares favorably to HTC’s VIVE Pro which features 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye (2880 x 1600 pixels combined). However, HTC has recently lowered the price of their entry-level VIVE headset to $499, and are offering the VIVE Pro for just $799. What’s more, VIVE’s Wireless Adaptor that will give more mobility to users is already in the works. As the necessary hardware and batteries cannot be packed into the headsets themselves, VIVE’s developments indicate that the future of VR is likely to be in cordless devices. Although VIVE’s adaptor is just to receive a release date, it will likely come long before Apple’s T288 sees the light of day in 2020.

While it’s interesting to glimpse at what Apple may be able to deliver in less than two years’ time, there are glaring issues concerning it’s relevancy. The rumoured T288 project’s ambition to deliver an ‘untethered’ VR experience is already being realized by firms such as VIVE and HTC.