— Ian Hamilton (@hmltn) May 23, 2023
Apple is widely expected to finally reveal its long-awaited, much-rumored XR headset at this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, starting this June 5 — even moreso because for the first time, Ian Hamilton, long time XR industry reporter at UploadVR (and .gif mood master), was invited to attend. (Road to VR was also invited.)
Here’s what Ian will be looking for from Apple, when he’s among the gathered reporters:
“If they mention the price I’ll be curious what the reaction will be in the audience,” as he puts it to me, “and how Apple talks about its commitment to plans for the future.”
He contrasts that with the reaction among the crowd at Oculus Connect, when the Quest MSRP was revealed. “Developers in the audience cheered when they heard $399 for Quest. Apple will probably need to wow that audience with something other than price.”
And yes, Ian has also heard the frequent rumors that Apple’s XR headset will have a starting (and gut- punching) price of $3000, but he’s still waiting to see if that’s actually the case: “It’s just one of those things where I’ll truly believe it when it’s stated by Apple publicly.”
The other rumored feature is around XR avatars for Apple’s platform: “If they show human-like avatars I’ll be extremely curious whether it’s a live demo or pre-recorded, and whether those avatars get out of the Uncanny Valley.”
Because according to other frequently reported rumors, Apple is developing those too:
One of the headset’s marquee features is said to be lifelike avatars that have accurate facial features captured by the included cameras. Each eye will be tracked by at least one camera, letting the headset accurately show the user’s gaze on an avatar. With precise eye-tracking, the headset will be able to perform foveated rendering to conserve power by only rendering imagery in full resolution directly where the user is looking.
I share Ian’s curiosity, because hyperreal human avatars would be a really, really bad idea, especially if there’s no other option for consumers but them. Not only is there no proven market for photorealistic human avatars, they provably unleash a number of unintended negative consequences. As avatar expert Nick Yee explained to me for the book:
“[W]hen the avatars are sufficiently human to make human assessments upon, our inherent human biases come clawing into the digital world… It’s almost unavoidable, because once you have bodies that are anywhere near realistic, people feel the need to dress up their bodies, and to look cooler than the next person. And suddenly you have this whole economy based around selling bodies and hair and body parts…”
In the same way that Nick Yee’s early Stanford studies suggest that users unconsciously bring the unwritten rules of eye contact and social distance with them in these virtual worlds, “a lot of racial norms, gender norms, and sexual harassment follows us in,” he tells me. “We shouldn’t be surprised by it now.”
And that’s on top of the gender challenges around XR raised by Apple insiders that I mentioned recently.
Follow Ian @hmltn on Twitter for updates in June. As for me, I continue to have huge misgivings around whatever Apple is doing. I hope the company will position its headset as a non-consumer enterprise project, and avoid Meta’s fate. But murmurs keep suggesting Cook is careening the company at that cliff.