Apple Fans Rejoice! iPhone Unveils New VR Headset

Apple fans have been salivating at the thought of using virtual reality (VR) headsets, which Android users have had the opportunity to enjoy this past year or so. Now, the Cupertino-based company has finally ventured into VR technology with its iPhone Optical Bridge.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is not a big believer of VR, putting more stock instead on augmented reality (AR) as the future of tech because of supposedly lesser constraints and more human interaction.

"VR has some interesting applications, but I don't think it's a broad-based technology like AR," Cook told Buzzfeed two months ago. "Augmented reality will take some time to get right, but I do think that it's profound. We might have a more productive conversation, if both of us have an AR experience standing here, right?"

While Cook might be right in putting Apple's research and development resources on harnessing AR, there are some tech companies that are eager to piggyback on Apple technology to develop VR headsets like the iPhone Optical Bridge.

Made by software startup Occipital, the iPhone Optical Bridge is seen as a link between reality and fantasy. Through the headset, the wearer can interact with the virtual environment "as if they were really there."

"With Bridge, you choose your reality. From immersive virtual reality experiences with room-scale, inside-out 6DoF positional tracking to stunning mixed reality experiences, an array of experiences are now possible," the Occipital website said.

Through positional tracking, the user of the iPhone Optical Bridge won't bump into walls or objects around the room. Third party developers will also find it easier to "port existing experiences" through the Unity plugin. In fact, the whole process just takes minutes.

The Optical Bridge VR headset is optimized for the iPhone. So if you have a high-end smart phone—such as the iPhone 6 or 6s and the iPhone 7—you can start using the headgear almost immediately. The "Bridge Engine efficiently synthesizes data from the Structure Sensor's depth sensing system and the iPhone's color camera and IMU to deliver breathtaking mixed reality experiences."

The Verge tested the iPhone Optical Bridge and walked away quite impressed with the device.

Sean O'Kane wrote that the headset is similar to Google's Daydream, Microsoft HoloLens, HTC Vive or Samsung Gear, as the wearer can interact with his environment. But he said the "Structure Sensor" of Bridge is what differentiates it from the other products in the market today.

Simply put, this technology refers to the cameras and sensors that can recreate the surroundings in incredible detail. With its "inside-out" positional tracking, the wearer can move around the room without separate cameras or sensors.

The author did not get a chance to try out the full VR experience in the iPhone Optical Bridge, but sampled the "mixed reality" experience that the demo promised. This mixed reality is what Microsoft has been trumpeting about with its HoloLens headset.
In terms of comfort, The Verge said that the headset is comfortable enough even if the whole gadget is quite bulky. This is due to the stiff straps that wraps around your head as well as the ratchet system that can be found at the back. But the bulk is noticeable, as the article quipped that it's the kind of thing that you wear when you are preparing for the Battle of Endor.

Among the specs and system requirements of the iPhone Optical Bridge are:

  • Inside-out 6DoF positional tracking capability
  • PMMA Optical-Grade Acrylic lens,
  • 60fps refresh rate,
  • 326 PPI resolution
  • iOS 9+ operating system
Because of the limited number of units and the holiday rush, the iPhone Optical Bridge is expected to sell for $499 starting next week. In March, however, the price should go down drastically to around $399.

[Featured Image by Stephen Lam/Getty Images]