Apple’s mixed-reality headset, which following numerous delays is cautiously expected to launch later this year, would arrive considerably later than that if the company’s designers got their way. According to a new report, the Cupertino design team warned Tim Cook that the headset project was not ready for a launch in 2023, but was ignored.
The Financial Times, citing two anonymous sources “familiar with Apple’s decision-making,” reports that conflicting ideas of how and when to launch the company’s first AR/VR product led to a schism at Apple: The operations team wanted to ship as soon as possible, but the design team preferred to wait and launch a lighter and sleeker version several years down the line. Tim Cook, according to the FT, sided with operations “and overruled the early objections from Apple’s designers to wait for the tech to catch up with their vision.”
This resolution, the FT argues, reflects the diminished political power invested in the design team since the glory days of Sir Jony Ive, when he superintended both hardware and software efforts and reported directly to the CEO. In such circumstances “going against the wishes of Apple’s all-powerful design team would have been unthinkable.” But power in the design division has since been diluted among multiple executives (one of whom has also left and not been directly replaced), and operations now seemingly has greater influence over the company’s direction, a move described by a former Apple engineer cited by the FT as a “logical progression” of Cook’s strategy.
The dispute over the headset’s launch is an indication both of the product’s importance to Apple in the long term–it’s unlikely to sell many units of the first edition, but could eventually be as popular as the iPhone–and of the company’s, and Tim Cook’s, frustration with the time it’s taken to come to market. Expected to launch in 2023, either at a dedicated spring event, WWDC, or alongside the iPhone in the fall, the headset has been afflicted by endless delays, and competitors are already working on similar products.
But perhaps most importantly to Cook, the headset is seen as something of a securing of his legacy as CEO. After launching the Apple Watch and AirPods during his tenure, the AR headset is expected to set a new direction within Apple that looks beyond the iPhone and expands Cook’s influence for years to come. With talk of his retirement never far from pundits’ minds, it’s no wonder that Apple’s immensely successful boss is keen to make sure it launches sooner rather than (even) later.
For all the latest news and rumors related to this year’s key product launch, check out our regularly updated Apple headset superguide.