A tease at WWDC is entirely possible

A tease at WWDC is entirely possible

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There’s been a lot of speculation about the timing of Apple’s mixed-reality headset launch – and in particular whether the company will announce it at WWDC 2022.

The smart money seems to be saying that it won’t go on sale until next year, with some suggesting that this means no mention at WWDC. Personally, though, I don’t buy this argument …

Apple’s mixed-reality headset is a slow burn

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo made the case for Apple remaining quiet for now.

The analyst thinks it’s unlikely that Apple will announce the device next week at WWDC 2022.

One of the reasons Kuo doesn’t believe Apple will show a preview of its new Apple mixed reality headset in June is that it would give competitors enough time to copy the product’s features.

I disagree, for two reasons.

First, Apple doesn’t care about anyone trying to copy either their designs or features. It happens all the time with Apple products, from AirPods to iPads. Anyone in the market for an Apple product isn’t going to buy a knock-off, whether it’s a no-brand Chinese product or a heavily hyped Samsung one.

Aside from product quality issues, one thing we can be certain of is that the headset is going to deepen the Apple ecosystem, so a competitor headset isn’t even in the running here.

Second, we are – if reports are accurate – talking about an extremely expensive first-generation device geared more toward developers than consumers. This is not something ordinary people are going to want to rush out and buy the next day.

On the contrary, this is going to be a slow-burn category for Apple. The eventual Apple Glasses product may be huge, but that’s years away yet. Apple first needs to get developers on board, and to do that, the company needs to prepare the ground.

Developers need to know the company’s vision for this completely new product category. They need, if not a roadmap, then a good understanding of Apple’s overall thinking about how things will unfold. And they need this a long time before we get anywhere near a consumer product.

Whether or not Apple shows the product design at this point doesn’t much matter. Developers need to have a steer for the type of applications the company has in mind, not the form factor.

The Mac Pro precedent

There is precedent for this. When professionals told the company that its trashcan Mac Pro design was, well, trash, Apple said back in 2017 that it had heard the message, and was working on a new modular design. So at that point, we had a rough idea of Apple’s thinking, some two and a half years before launch.

A year later, the company added that it was working with pros to ensure that the product would be what real customers want. And at WWDC 2019 – a full six months before the product went on sale – Apple showed it to us. We got to see the actual design, as well as detailed specs.

At that point, any competitor could have copied the design, or specs, or both. But it would have been irrelevant because it wouldn’t have been a Mac.

The same is true here. Apple could do exactly the same thing at WWDC 2022: show us both the design and the specs, and it wouldn’t matter who copied it, because it wouldn’t be part of the Apple ecosystem.

Will there be a WWDC tease?

I don’t know: I’m not saying that Apple definitely will confirm its plans for a mixed-reality headset, only that the argument against this doesn’t hold water.

I’m also saying that, whether or not it’s Monday, it would make sense for Apple to share headset details with developers ahead of time – and I think a Mac Pro approach would make sense. Get developers comfortable with the overall plan before the distraction of a product design.

In terms of timing, if we are talking about a spring 2023 launch, then June 2022 is perhaps a little early. Announcing it in September may make more sense, in which case I’d definitely expect it to be more conceptual than concrete – Apple wouldn’t want the iPhone 14 lineup to play second fiddle to a more exciting new piece of hardware. The company could reveal the design closer to the time.

So that’s my best guess – but if Apple does say anything about it tomorrow, I won’t be surprised. What are your thoughts? Please let us know in the comments.

Photo: James Yarema/Unsplash

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