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The Challenges of Jony Ive’s Apple Mixed Reality Headset to Battery Life, Heat, Cost and Lack of Discipline

The challenges of Apple's mixed reality headset project explained
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Made by Antonia DeRosa. Published by 9to5Mac.

In a follow-up report on the challenges Apple faced while building its mixed reality headset, information corroborates the details we have learned by Bloomberg during the last years. But it also delves into the issues the project faced, from Jony Ive to power, battery, heat, laptop cost, and even an alleged lack of discipline on the part of the AR/VR team.

Earlier this week, the information shared first part of this report. According to sources who worked on the mixed reality headset team, early issues dating back to 2016 included CEO Tim Cook not being a “champion” of the project, and Jony Ive dropping the idea of ​​pivoting. a VR headset. to current AR/VR design.

Second part of The Information’s report corroborates what Bloomberg reported in 2020that Jony Ive also made the decision in 2019 for the headset team to abandon a design that worked with a base station to go with a less powerful but simpler headset that worked as a standalone device.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and then-design director Jonathan Ive were among executives who viewed VR demos on prototype headsets simulating the difference between the two approaches, according to two people familiar with. with the demos. The headset that worked with a base station had superior graphics, including photorealistic avatars, while the standalone version depicted its avatars more like cartoon characters. Mike Rockwell, Apple’s vice president in charge of the company’s AR/VR team, preferred the headset with the base station, believing Apple’s top brass wouldn’t accept the quality visuals. lower than the standalone version, according to the two people.

He was wrong. I had been pushing for the standalone version of the headset since the early days of the project, according to someone familiar with it. In the end, senior Apple executives sided with Ive. Despite this, Rockwell still assured them that he could make a great product. The choice had lasting repercussions for the repeatedly delayed headset, which is internally codenamed N301.

The decision would have created many difficulties as the headset team worked to balance “battery life and performance while minimizing the heat generated so people don’t burn themselves while wearing the headset. device”.

Sources say the failure of Mike Rockwell – the headset’s maker – to deliver “the high-quality mixed reality experience he announced to Apple executives” is the main reason the product was delayed so many times.

Apple executives expect an AR experience far beyond what competitors like Meta Platforms, Facebook’s parent company, offer in terms of graphics, body tracking and latency – the lag between movements of a user and what he sees on his screen, according to three people familiar with the matter. A delay of a few tenths of a second between a user’s head movements and corresponding perspective changes inside a headset can create nausea.

There have also been divisions within the headset team as to what the target customer should be. Some say Jony Ive changing course from a more powerful headset with a base station to a standalone device was a bad decision.

Some of these people blame Ive, who they say fundamentally changed the purpose of headphones from something creatives and professionals would use on a desktop to a wearable device for consumers. These people argue that Apple should have first developed a product for professionals to encourage them to create content for the headset before offering one to consumers.

The new report from The Information shares details such as the integration of 14 cameras, fixing video streaming issues and CPU issues also being obstacles.

Another design decision that significantly added to the technical challenges of the Apple headset was the inclusion of its 14 cameras, which allow it to capture everything from images of the outside world to facial expressions and body gestures.

Apple had to build the Bora image signal processor to process the richness of imagery. But Apple engineers ran into technical difficulties getting Bora to work with the headset’s main processor, named Staten. Round-trip communication between the two chips increases latency, which can create nausea for people wearing the headset.

This meant that Apple had to build another custom piece of this puzzle, a streaming codec. And apparently it hasn’t been fully resolved.

Even more challenges for the project have been a lack of discipline.

Prior to 2019, it had a freewheeling culture, operating almost like a startup within Apple, four people familiar with the team said. Employees brainstormed features and experimented with ideas that might never see the light of day.

Apple ended up bringing in its veteran Kim Vorrath to reign over the project and then awarded hardware chef Dan Riccio to supervise the mixed reality headset.

Vorrath brought more structure to the group, forcing individual teams to come up with defining features for the headset software to motivate them and create more accountability. After she arrived, engineers were introduced to a concept she had used in software engineering known as the “six-week sprint,” two people familiar with the matter said.

Interestingly, even after Jony Ive left Apple, some members of the headset team had to go to his house to get “modification approval”.

A person familiar with the matter said Ive’s consulting work for Apple since leaving includes the headset, adding that he is often called upon to help his former team get through preferences in areas such as battery, camera placement and ergonomics compared to engineers. Two people said that even after I left Apple, some headset project employees still had to drive from Cupertino to San Francisco, where Ive has a home, to get its approval on the changes.

Another tidbit, Ive tweaked the design of the headset over the years and his most recent preference is for the headset to have a battery attached and worn next to the headset, instead of it being integrated into the headband.

Finally, another challenge was cost. This is one of the main reasons Apple assigned executive Dan Riccio to the project.

Reports from Bloomberg and The Information suggest that Apple is currently considering a price of above $2,000 for $3,000.

For all the details on Apple’s headphone challenges, check out the full report from The Information.

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