Apple is developing an AR headset; so much is clear from its many AR-specific job listings and even its latest version of iOS, which includes a stereoscopic renderer. The questions of what, how, and when are all patently up in the air though, making any shred of evidence—or in this case, rumor—something to highlight.

A DigiTimes report, first picked up by MacRumorsmaintains that the Cupertino tech giant has partnered with Valve to produce its upcoming AR headset, something the report alleges should arrive sometime in the second half of 2020 at the very earliest.

Citing “industry sources,” DigiTimes reports that Taiwan’s ODMs Quanta Computer and Pegatron have been named as the assemblers behind Apple’s AR headset.

This comes in the wake of a separate DigiTimes report that alleges Apple disbanded a team back in May which were responsible for the AR headset’s development, and reassigned its members to other divisions within the company.

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A Taiwan-based publication, DigiTimes primarily reports on Apple info based on sources in the company’s supply chain; both claims made by DigiTimes are unsubstantiated at this time and will likely remain that way knowing Apple’s penchant for never commenting on in-development products.

Rumor notwithstanding: Valve previously partnered with HTC to produce the 2016-era VR headset HTC Vive, having basically handed its work to HTC in effort to kickstart a more solid VR product segment for Steam, its massively successful digital distribution platform. While an Apple-Valve partnership to create its AR headset may not seem so far fetched with this in mind, it’s still an unusual move to say the least.

Image courtesy HTC

Apple still actively hires AR professionals spanning a number of fields, including hardware, software, games, management, and marketing—and it’s been doing so since at least 2014. That’s not to say Apple doesn’t need any outside help from a clearly capable name in immersive product development, but it does raise an eyebrow considering Apple has been researching AR on its own for the past five years.

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Flurry of New Apple 'AR/VR' Job Listings Point to New Products on the Horizon

Although there’s no way to peer into the labs of either company—both are notorious black boxes—Valve notably let go of its early AR headset ambitions when it fired previous Valve employee Jeri Ellsworth, the founder behind the Tilt Five AR headset (then known as CastAR) and key proponent of AR’s gaming applications within the company. Ellsworth’s independent work started back in 2013 however, and much has changed in AR since then.

Then there’s the quid pro quo that doesn’t quite make sense here. If Valve helps Apple—a company known for making hardware exclusively for its app ecosystem—create an AR headset, what does Valve get out of it? A lump sum payday? A piece of licensing? It certainly won’t see any sales of AR games through Steam, at least not without a radical shift in how Apple works.

Whatever the case, we’ll have our eyes peeled for more information on the suspected upcoming Apple AR headset; either way you slice it, it’s bound to inject plenty of mainstream interest into augmented reality.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • wheeler

    There were a few AR related Valve patents from ~2012 that were recently made public e.g. this one http://www.freepatentsonline.com/10442774.html . I don’t know if there’s any significance to the publication date of a patent (most of their others have a 2 year lag–not 7) but this is definitely something that Valve has researched in the past. And I would imagine that VR and AR technologies will have more and more overlap as times goes on, so their more recent research probably applies to AR in some ways as well.

    In any case, as you say this rumored partnership is very odd. The only thing I can imagine Valve offering Apple is something R&D related–which is surprising in itself given that Apple has immense R&D resources (though their recent hardware releases seem a bit stagnant). If we’re to believe all of the rumors, it’s as if Apple realized their internal AR developments weren’t good enough and opted for something Valve has been working on instead.

    As for what Valve gets out of it, both Valve’s and Apple’s biggest anxiety in the space of immersive technologies is coming from Facebook. If Apple’s AR offering is lacking (or entirely absent) and leads to FB dominance in AR, would that create any problems for Valve? I know VR and AR standards are supposed to overlap (OpenXR) and the dream is for both technologies to eventually merge, so perhaps this is a long game play by Valve where as a condition of the partnership Valve is requiring them to utilize an open standard? In a few ways the partnership seems similar to the one with HTC (except Apple is actually competent in the hardware space)

  • Adrian Meredith

    On a partially related note I’d love to see an oculus quest with an apple processor. Imagine that!

  • sfmike

    The corporate treasure hunt mas moved from VR to AR but once again they will be disappointed when they don’t get a billion dollars in return after two quarters. The same story over and over.

    • dogtato

      I think it’s mostly wall street that cares about quarterly profits. the companies, at least facebook and valve, seem dedicated to the long term. google kind of half-assed it though

  • Ted Joseph

    The first company that introduces a light weight pair of AR glasses that can actually do AR; and not just present images and videos in your right eye, will take the industry by storm. It will have to be light weight (i.e let the phone do the processing), have next to no lag, have full integration of IOS and android apps, etc. Been waiting for years now!!! Bring it on!

    • Tilt 5 ?
      Seems you missed it.

      • wheeler

        Tilt 5 is very cool but as I understand it the tech is limited to applications where there is a retroreflective material in a portion of your vision, hence the board games selling point. What the poster is referring to is something with much more general applications

  • Ted Joseph

    Thought about this again.. I have a bad feeling that by apple disbanding their team, and now searching for more experienced teams to partner with is not good for anyone looking for Apple AR glasses next year that will live up to the standards of apple products… Looks like I will not have to wait for Facebooks offering.. Hopefully it is good.

  • Valve has apparently fired earlier this year the people responsible for bringing SteamVR support to macOS in the first place. Apple has since removed all VR headset marketing materials from their site, but then hired that person in mid-summer. One would expect that some significant progress has already been made with VR rendering on iOS given that Apple has added 2 years ago VR rendering support on macOS via Metal 2. But the tight integration of eye-tracking and varifocal capabilities is likely the most challenging aspect of designing AR glasses people would like to wear. Valve does not seem to have much expertise there and there are other companies that have been specifically focusing on this problem (like Singapore-based Lemnis Technologies). So not sure now what Valve could possibly bring to Apple’s AR/VR solution given that the iOS ecosystem will certainly be its primary target (stereoscopic ARKit-based apps for iPhone, iPad & Apple TV distributed exclusively through the App Store)…

    • Ardra Diva
      • So far ARKit-based apps are only monocular (i.e. same image presented to both eyes) and 3D/depth is only perceived through a parallax effect. AR glasses would require stereoscopic rendering (i.e. slightly different images presented to each eye) to allow perception of 3D/depth and possibly manipulation of virtual content using hands or eye movements. ARKit does not do that yet…

        • Ardra Diva

          But it fits Apple’s probable use of AR, on an iOS device, which is itself monocular. I have never expected much more than “Pokemon Go” from Apple in the AR realm. But, we will see.

  • Interesting analysis… maybe the partnership just regards Apple using some patents by Valve

  • MosBen

    Yeah, this just doesn’t make sense to me. Steam is Valve’s primary business, and their other projects, while it’s VR or game development, are designed to at least in part drive business to Steam. As the article says, a product made with Apple likely wouldn’t drive business to Steam, so why would they do it? Apple has plenty of money and talent, so they don’t really need Valve. None of it really seems plausible.

  • dota

    Apple gets a marketplace at steam with it
    and I hope its vr headset is revolutionary

  • dk

    lol what …or more like apple wants some patent valve has

  • Ardra Diva

    Apple hasn’t been a true innovator for 12 years, since the original iPhone was released. In most respects this doesn’t really fit their business model since Jobs passed, so I’m frankly curious to see if this ever hits the market. They aren’t normally geared towards enterprise like Hololens, and they aren’t big in gaming, so I guess we’ll see what happens.