Jony Ive’s Apple Mixed Reality Headphones Challenge Battery Life, Heat, Cost, and Lack of Discipline

Presented by Antonia de Rosa. Edited by 9to5Mac.

In a follow-up report on the challenges Apple faced in creating its own mixed reality headset, the information confirms the details we’ve learned from Bloomberg in recent years. But it also delves into the issues the project has faced from Jony Ive to the wearable’s power, battery, heat, cost, and even an alleged lack of discipline from the AR/VR team.

Earlier this week, The Information shared the first part of this report. According to sources who worked with the mixed reality headset team, early issues starting in 2016 included CEO Tim Cook not being a “champion” of the project, and Jony Ive shutting down the idea of ​​making a virtual reality headset turning it into an existing AR/VR design.

The second part of the information report confirms what Bloomberg reported in 2020, that Jony Ive also made a decision in 2019 for the headphone team to ditch the design that had been working with a base station to work with a less powerful but simpler headphone that works as a standalone. devices.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and then chief design officer Jonathan Ive were among the executives who watched VR demos on headset prototypes that mimic how the two approaches might differ, according to two people familiar with the demos. The headset that works with a base station features superior graphics, including realistic avatars, while the standalone version depicts its avatars like cartoonish characters. Mike Rockwell, Apple’s vice president in charge of the company’s AR/VR team, preferred the headset with the base station, believing that Apple seniors wouldn’t accept low-quality images for the standalone release, according to the two people.

was wrong. I’ve pushed for a standalone version of the headset since the early days of the project, according to a person familiar with it. In the end, top Apple executives sided with Eve. Despite this, Rockwell still assures them that he can make a great product. This choice has had lasting repercussions for the repeatedly delayed headset, codenamed in-house N301.

This decision allegedly caused many difficulties as the headphone team worked to balance “battery life and performance while reducing the heat generated so that people wouldn’t sing while wearing the device.”

Sources say the failure of Mike Rockwell – head of the headset – to deliver the “high-quality mixed reality experience he told Apple executives he would” is the main reason the product has been delayed so many times.

Apple leaders expect an AR experience that far exceeds what competitors like Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, offer in terms of graphics, body tracking and latency — the difference between a user’s movements and what they see on their screens, according to three people familiar with the matter. A delay of even a few tenths of a second between user head movements and corresponding perspective changes inside the headset may cause nausea.

There was also a split among the headphone team over what the target customer should be. Some say that Jony Ive changing course from a more powerful base station headset to a standalone device was a wrong move.

Some of those people blame Ive, who they say has radically changed the purpose of the headset from a product used by creators and professionals in the office to a mobile device for consumers. These people argue that Apple should have developed a product first for professionals to encourage them to create content for headphones before launching a product to consumers.

The new information report shares details such as integrating 14 cameras, resolving video streaming issues and processor issues that are also roadblocks.

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

Apple had to build a Bora signal processor to process the bounty of images. But Apple engineers had technical challenges getting the Bora to work with the headset’s main processor, called the Staten Code. Connecting back and forth between the two chips increases response time, which can make people who wear the headset feel queasy.

This means that Apple had to build another custom piece to this puzzle, a streaming codec. It has reportedly not been fully settled.

Further challenges faced by the project were the lack of discipline.

Four people familiar with the team said that prior to 2019, it had a free culture, operating almost like a startup inside Apple. The employees came up with brainstorming features and experimented with ideas that might never see the light of day.

Apple ended up bringing in veteran Kim Vorrath to control the project and later appointed Chief Hardware Dan Riccio to oversee the mixed reality headset.

Vorrath brought more group structure, requiring individual teams to devise specific features of the headphone software to motivate them and create more accountability. After she joined, the engineers were introduced to a concept she used in software engineering known as the “six-week sprint,” two people familiar with the matter said.

Even after Jony Ive left Apple, some members of the headphone team had to go to his house to get “changes approved”.

One person familiar with the matter said the consulting work Yves has done for Apple since leaving includes the headset, adding that he’s often brought in to help his former team move forward with their preferences in areas like battery, camera placement and ergonomics over those of engineers. Two people said that even after Apple left, some employees on the headphone project still had to make the trip from Cupertino to San Francisco, where Ive has a home, to get his approval for the changes.

Another piece of information, Ive has modified the design of the headset over the years and my last preference was for the headset to be attached to a battery and worn alongside the headset, rather than integrated into the headband.

Finally, another challenge was cost. This is one of the main reasons why Apple appointed CEO Dan Riccio to the project.

Reports from Bloomberg and The Information indicated that Apple is currently looking at a price over $2,000 to $3,000.

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

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