At the end of 2018, a few years after Apple developed the device with AR / VR functions, the situation changed dramatically. Jony ive, then Apples chief design officer, questioned some of the products basic designs and urged apple to change its plans. The headset will be Apples first major product after the apple watch, and the first device from Apples AR / VR secret division, TDG, led by Mike Rockwell.
After working for Dolby labs and avid technology, a media editing software company, Rockwell, 53, was hired by Dan Riccio, an Apple hardware executive, in 2015. According to current and former Apple employees interviewed, Rockwells initial role was broadly defined. Representatives of apple and Ivey declined to comment, and the company did not arrange for Rockwell to be interviewed.
Rockwell began to form its own team at the end of 2015, which later developed into a department with more than 1000 engineers and began to develop two products aimed at subverting the VR and AR fields. A device code named n301 will combine the advantages of VR and AR, in which the former can provide a comprehensive digital experience of game and consumer content, and the latter is a tool to overlay text, map and other information in front of the audience. The other device, n421, is more complicated. Its a light-duty spectacle using only AR technology.
The n301 was originally designed as a super powerful system with unprecedented graphics and processing speed wearable products. Its processing power is so advanced that it can generate a lot of heat that the technology cant be integrated into fashionable small helmets. Instead, Rockwells team plans to sell a fixed hub prototype similar to a small Mac that can be wirelessly connected to a helmet. In earlier versions of Rockwell, the helmet also worked in a weak stand-alone mode.
Ivey is hesitant to sell a helmet that requires an independent fixed device to achieve all its functions. He encouraged Rockwell and his team to redevelop the n301 around technologies that are less functional and fully embedded in the device. Rockwell countered that the performance of the wireless hub is so superior that it will dwarf anything on the market. The deadlock lasted for months.
Rockwell is highly respected at Apple and is known for his sharpness, cleverness and efficiency. Rockwell was supported by Craig federighis software development team and Johnny sroujis chip development department. Apple spends more than $15 billion a year on research and development, and this is not the first time it has invested huge resources in an ambitious and potentially risky project.
Just a few months before Rockwell joined the company, the company began to build electric vehicles, hoping to compete with Teslas electric vehicles. Apple hired hundreds of engineers and reassigned more internal staff. But by the end of 2016, the company began to lay off workers, basically giving up the vehicle development plan and supporting the development of the underlying autonomous driving technology. Within the company, the project is considered a disaster.
Rockwells team still has a good reputation, and when it works with other parts of apple, insiders think it enjoys unusual independence. TDGs office is located in an office park in Sunnyvale, California, about 15 minutes from its headquarters. TDG has its own hardware, software, operation and content teams, and its employees are the hottest talents in the company.
As for the impasse between Rockwell and Ivey, CEO Tim Cook ultimately sided with the latter. Although the helmet apple is developing is not as ambitious in technology as originally thought, it is still quite advanced. It features ultra-high resolution screens, and users can hardly distinguish between the virtual world and the real world. People who have tried the prototype say the movie speaker system will make the experience more real.
After that, giving up the hub means that the image will not be as good as before, the download speed will slow down, and the experience may not be as realistic as originally hoped. But for Ivey, who has worked at Apple for nearly 30 years, a more realistic experience may cause problems, and he doesnt want apple to promote technologies that take people out of the real world. According to people familiar with the matter, AVI prefers the concept of n421 glasses, which will keep users grounded and send maps and information to their field of vision.
The n301 prototype looks like the smaller Facebook virtual reality helmet oculus quest, which is mainly made of fabric but uses less plastic than quest. Apples engineering team is still testing different head shapes to find the most appropriate configuration. The company has not set a price yet. In contrast, oculus quest retails for $399, while Microsofts hololens2 hybrid reality helmet and magic leapar glasses for businesses sell for $3500 and $2295, respectively.
The n301 will have its own app store that focuses on games and streaming video content, while also serving as a super high-tech communication device for virtual meetings. Siri, Apples voice assistant, will control both the helmet and the final ar glasses, but the helmet is also being tested with a physical remote control. Apple has transferred many of its Siri interface engineers to Rockwells team.
However, TGD recently lost several key employees. Peter Meier joined apple in 2015 from German ar start-up metaiogmbh and left last year. Ian Richter, a former executive at DreamWorks Animation who worked for nearly two years, moved to another part of Apple last October. Cody white, who helped develop Apples reality kit software, resigned last December, allowing developers to make 3D renderings in AR apps for iPhones and iPads.
Rockwell is moving on. Apple plans to announce new tools for iPhone AR applications at the 2020 global developers conference this month, but the actual hardware rollout will take longer. Although the plan may change, at a plenary meeting last fall, Rockwell said the first helmet could be released next year and will be available in 2022. Apple fans are looking forward to seeing ar glasses as early as 2023.
All in all, apple is gathering more than 1000 engineers to develop a key product that can be called the next big thing, but it is clear that the progress of this project is not smooth. (small)
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