Apple has a patent for a virtual reality headset, but that’s one device the company is unlikely to sell you

It’s not so hard to imagine an Apple VR headset.
It’s not so hard to imagine an Apple VR headset.
Image: US Patent and Trademark Office
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According to a patent it was granted this week, Apple has been thinking about creating an Oculus-like virtual reality headset since at least 2008, the year it filed its application. But recent comments by the company’s design boss, Jony Ive, suggest that this is one device the company has no intention of releasing—for now at least.

Like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard, Apple’s vision for head-mounted goggles relies on an external portable device such as an iPhone. To create an immersive experience, speakers can serve as haptic components “configured to provide an enhanced surround sound experience by providing impulses corresponding to events in the image based content.”

The device described in the patent would be capable of both virtual reality and augmented reality. It would use the phone’s camera to capture data from the scenery and overlay it with images or information.

Of course, a company patenting an invention is no guarantee of an actual product. Apple is not usually one to reveal its cards too early, but it’s apparent that its next bet on wearables is on the wrist. In an interview with the New Yorker, Ive said the face “was the wrong place” for a wearable device that provided notifications. CEO Tim Cook—who recently said he couldn’t live without the Apple Watch—concurred: “We always thought [a head-worn device] would flop, and, you know, so far it has.” (In January, Google reorganized the Glass division and halted consumer sales of the device.)

But in the event the hi-tech goggles market does explode, Apple can certainly jump in at any point with this patent. Steve Jobs once famously said “no one would buy” a large-screen phone, but consumers proved the late Apple cofounder wrong when they latched onto the iPhone 6 Plus, which wound up driving the company’s biggest earnings report in corporate history.