Apple’s headset team reveals the project’s misguided priorities

As one of the riskiest and most delay-prone projects in Apple history approaches its culmination in a glitzy launch event, leaker Mark Gurman has named the 13 employees who have been most instrumental in midwifing the troubled mixed reality headset. It says something for the longwindedness of the project that one of the 13 no longer works for Apple, while a second is expected to retire shortly after it’s released. But all have reportedly left their mark on the device cautiously expected to be named Reality Pro.

In the latest edition of his regular Power On newsletter, Gurman claims that thousands of staff members are currently working on the headset, including executives, marketers and–mentioned last, in what feels like an ominous reflection of priorities–engineers. But the following lucky 13 “have been especially critical to the seven-year-plus effort.”

  • Mike Rockwell: Has led the headset’s development since 2016.
  • Jeff Williams: Chief Operating Officer and a possible successor to Tim Cook. “A driving force” on this project.
  • Dan Riccio: Expected to retire “not too long” after the headset comes out, so this will be a legacy definer.
  • Paul Meade: Handles hardware engineering for the headset.
  • Jony Ive: Involved in the project from the start, but finally cut ties with Apple last summer.
  • Greg Joswiak: Senior Vice President, Worldwide Marketing, “and one of the biggest proponents of the headset on Apple’s executive team.”
  • Phil Schiller: Apple Fellow. Has advocated for a gaming focus.
  • Frank Casanova: In charge of marketing for this project.
  • Kim Vorrath: The headset’s lead engineering program manager.
  • Jeff Norris: Ex-NASA, where he used VR to control spacecraft.
  • Johny Srouji: Senior Vice President, Hardware Technologies, and Apple’s chip guru. In charge of the M2 processor expected to appear in the headset.
  • Shannon Gans: In charge of content for the headset.
  • Geoff Stahl: In charge of the xrOS operating system and other software that will run on the headset.

All of this, while fascinating from a corporate operations point of view and impressive as a demonstration of the leaker’s knowledge of Apple’s inner workings, might strike readers as being a little “inside baseball.” Who cares which executive made the decision, provided the decision was a good one? Who cares about the personnel behind the product, as long as we’re blown away by it?

Of course, we don’t need to know the names of Apple’s key executives to enjoy the company’s products. But if the headset disappoints–and there’s a moderate risk that it will–then the structure of the team is likely to be a key factor in explaining why that happened.

Tim Cook’s Apple and Steve Jobs’ Apple share many elements, but they do differ quite profoundly in where they locate power. Under Jobs, Jony Ive’s design shop ruled the roost, with his team encouraged to largely ignore questions of cost and practicality and simply focus on creating the greatest products they could. Under Cook, a logistics man through and through, operations holds the greatest power and the design team has become fragmented, somewhat sidelined, and overruled on this project.

The fact that designers aren’t even mentioned in Gurman’s summary of the thousands of employees working on the headset, and that the list of 13 key players is dominated by managers, marketers, and specialists in hardware or software engineering (while the most prominent designer on the list has barely been involved with the company since 2019), may or may not be a reflection of the project’s priorities. But it does suggest that the voices of people who think current technology will result in a product that’s bulky and heavy and won’t have good battery life have not been given massive prominence.

For the latest news and rumors about this important product launch, check our regularly updated Apple headset superguide.


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