Apple Faces New Problems With Vision Pro Headset
Manufacturing, research costs and scepticism about sales could further setback production of Apple’s first generation Vision Pro mixed reality headset. According to reports, Apple is not only grappling with the demanding technical issues of manufacturing the device’s two micro OLED displays, Asian manufacturers also question their return from ploughing millions into manufacturing research for a likely limited initial supply run.
It was reported last week that Apple was being forced to cutback production due to supply chain problems and commitments by manufacturers, and that projected sales fell well short of a claimed target of one million units in the first 12 months. Apple and Chinese manufacturer Luxshare were preparing to make less than 400,000 units next year, while another two China-based sole suppliers for the Vision Pro claimed Apple was only asking for enough for 130,000 to 150,000 units for the first year.
Further details have emerged of a reluctance of manufacturers to produce the initial Vision Pro which, at a price tag above $A5,000, would likely appeal only to developers for now, despite impressive innovations such as the unit’s dozen cameras, its capability to take 3D photos and video, and its operation by eye tracking and hand gestures without needing a hardware-based control device. Then there’s the signature high resolution display, comprised of 23 million pixels across the two lenses.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says Apple’s product testers found smaller users had problems wearing the Vision Pro for lengthy periods. “During testing of the device, Apple determined that some people with smaller body sizes and heads would struggle to wear the headset for more than half an hour or so,” Gurman reported.
The Financial Times has now detailed technical problems in making the micro OLED displays. It says Apple requires micro OLED displays massively higher in resolution compared to an OLED display and the display materials have to be deposited on a silicon wafer rather than a glass substrate.
“The current generation of micro OLEDs have a resolution of 3,000 pixels per inch (PPI) — six times more than the PPI in a glass OLED display, and greater than the resolution of a state of the art 4K television for each eye,” it says.
Sony, which is allegedly producing the first version of the Vision Pro, is reluctant to produce big qualities until it has confirmation of high demand for the Vision Pro. “We will be watching to see how much demand will increase,” says Terushi Shimizu, who heads Sony’s semiconductor unit. “I don’t think we will be aggressive”, he told the paper.
The Financial Times also reports that alternative manufacturers have been bitten by making mixed reality lenses for devices that didn’t sell. It said no display makers had met Apple’s “expectations for the technology” and the tech giant was unwilling to compromise on quality. Chinese manufacturers such as SeeYA may have additional problems supplying micro OLED displays given “their potential military application”.
That has left Samsung and LG as potential longer term suppliers, but according to reports, both are yet to build their own Micro OLED panel production lines, although in May, Samsung acquired OLED micro display maker eMagin to boost that capability.
However, Samsung also looms as a competitor to Apple’s Vision Pro. This week it announced a temporary postponement of its own augmented reality headset after reviewing the Vision Pro specs. LG Display meanwhile has been collaborating with Meta and SK Hynix, and showcased a small micro OLED display at January’s Consumer technology Show (CES). But production may not begin until 2025.
There is also the shadow of Microsoft. It had grand expectations when it released its far more basic HoloLens mixed reality headset in 2016, but the current version 2 of HoloLens (priced at $US3500) remains available only for commercial use and Microsoft is restricted to providing software updates for it while it still investigates a HoloLens 3. One of its major issues is its narrow field-of-view.
Apple has shown itself to be far more adept at manufacturing computer hardware compared to Microsoft.