The long-rumored Apple VR headset is set to launch later this year, and when it does, it could arrive without an accessory that pretty much every competing device relies on: controllers.
While devices like the Meta Quest Pro and its predecessor, the Oculus Quest 2, offer handsetless hand-tracking options, their controllers are still the primary way users interact with the virtual world; While there are several apps that support hand tracking, there are significantly more experiences that require users to interact with the world using their controllers.
But Apple seems keen to ditch cumbersome cell phones with Bloombergs (opens in new tab) Mark Gurman – who has a solid track record with Apple Leaks – suggests users will instead interact with Apple’s VR interface using their hands and eyes.
According to Gurman, Apple headset users look at the app they want to open, then reach out and press their thumb and forefinger together to open it. While Apple is apparently still developing a virtual keyboard for users to type on, at launch, headset wearers will instead have to rely on the Siri voice assistant to convert their speech to text for typing.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t pair external hardware with the Apple headset. Apple is the king of interoperability between its devices, and this headset won’t buck the trend — it’ll reportedly be able to double as a second monitor for your Mac computer, and you can use your iPhone and iPad’s keyboard to do it use tap.
As with all leaks and rumours, we should take Gurman’s claims with a pinch of salt, although as mentioned he is fairly reliable and the information is consistent with the fact that we have heard very little detail about the headset’s handsets. If the device launches this year and with controllers, we should have heard some design or spec details about it by now; However, apart from the odd patent, we haven’t heard anything, while we already know quite a bit about the headset itself, which could suggest it is indeed controllerless.
Analysis: A hand tracking upgrade is on the horizon
If you’ve used hand tracking on a VR headset, you might be a bit concerned that Apple’s headset relies entirely on it. While I was impressed with the version of the feature used by Meta’s Quest Pro and even its older headsets like the Quest 2, the tool isn’t quite as proficient as I’d like; Too few apps currently support it, and the tracking isn’t accurate enough to ditch controllers altogether.
However, I think Apple’s VR setup could give its version of the tool an edge, and that’s because of its use of eye-tracking.
I’ve found hand tracking to struggle the most on Metas Quest devices in menus. When you’re in a game and picking up an object, it works really well, but the moment you need to remotely point and interact with a menu, things can feel subpar. Apple’s headset sounds like it’s solving this inaccuracy problem with eye-tracking – instead of simply relying on a user’s gestures, the device may be able to better infer the wearer’s intentions by using where they’re looking as an additional data point.
We’ll have to wait and see exactly how Apple’s VR headset performs when it finally launches later this year, but if its hand tracking is an upgrade over what’s come before then I expect we’ll see like Meta and other provide updates for systems – at least those with eye tracking, like the Quest Pro.
The XR space isn’t just a battle between Apple and Meta, of course. Check out our hands-on experience with the HTC Vive XR Elite and our rundown of all VR, AR, and MR headsets at CES 2023 to get a better understanding of what 2023 has in store for the Metaverse.