Apple has an amazing lens for its new mixed reality headset

Apple’s mixed reality headset could turn the VR trend around and deliver a much lighter and slimmer form factor, a new analyst report says, as the Cupertino-based company responds to one of the biggest criticisms of AR and VR technology. According to rumors over the past few years, Apple’s roadmap of augmented reality headsets and smart glasses already includes several generations of models, as the company pursues the forefront of affordable portable displays.

Obviously, Apple is not alone in taking up this challenge. The reality, however, is that the current crop of virtual reality and augmented reality headsets won’t exactly be mistaken for sunglasses or indeed anything other than big tech stuff.

The problem is fitting the displays, lenses, processing hardware, and batteries – along with other sensors – in that package. The lenses themselves are a particular challenge, as they usually need to be adjustable in order to accommodate faces of different sizes, as well as of sufficiently high quality. There, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple took a big leap forward.

In a note to investors, 9to5Mac reports, Kuo suggests that Apple is working on what is designed as an “ultra-short throw lens / Fresnel lens”. Made from plastic rather than glass, which would allow the company to significantly reduce the weight of the helmet. According to the analyst, the target is less than 150 grams.

An Oculus Quest 2, Facebook’s latest generation of standalone VR headset, weighs 503 grams. Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, a standalone mixed reality headset, weighs 566 grams.

Fresnel lenses are not new, as they have been used in lighthouses for over two centuries. They consist of a set of concentric grooves through a circular lens, each of which is a refractive element, in different stages. The optical properties of these lenses allow them to mimic the performance of a much thicker single-curvature lens.

The downside, at least traditionally, is a loss of overall image quality. It’s not something you have to consider when dealing with a flagship, but it’s definitely a problem when trying to deliver the maximum pixel count to a user of an AR headset. For this to be effective for Apple’s purposes, therefore, the company will need to have addressed the clarity of the optical stack to bypass, among other things, distortion and spherical aberration issues.

Apple is believed to use Micro-OLED displays for the headset, and harnessing the higher brightness of OLED could at least partially help with some of the Fresnel lens design challenges.

This isn’t Kuo’s first discussion of Apple glasses. Earlier this month, he suggested that there could be 15 cameras built into the helmet, used for a combination of surrounding space passage imagery, tracking, and more. He believes the first-generation release is likely in 2022, although that’s probably not the sleek, sunglasses-type form factor many are hoping for. Instead, the headset – which Kuo says will likely cost around $ 1,000 – should be more functional in design.

As for a sleeker version, it could take until 2025 to launch, according to earlier leaks.