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Apple just patented a new VR headset controller — but there’s a catch

Apple’s mixed-reality headset is due to launch this June at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and a freshly published patent hints at some of the controllers Apple might offer with the device. But some major caveats could prevent these accessories from ever seeing the light of day.

The patent (number 20230096068) describes how Apple could create a handheld controller with a “torque feedback mechanism” to provide immersive physical responses while using a mixed-reality headset. That might help offset the drawbacks of virtual input methods (like touchscreens), which can “detract from the realism” of the experience and leave a user unsure if their input has properly registered, according to Apple.

Apple VR Headset Concept by Antonio De Rosa
Antonio De Rosa

Specifically, the patent talks of the mechanism being installed into a “trigger” or “lever” on the controller. That sounds like the device could be shaped like a gun, and Apple’s patent illustrations point towards that sort of implementation.

Apple’s patent would work by outfitting the controller with a number of magnets that could be activated when the trigger is squeezed. The patent explains that these can be adjusted to “provide more or less torque at different times … to emulate different triggers or levers.”

In other words, Apple could be planning for a customizable system rather than one that is totally fixed and static. That would be ideal for letting you adjust the controller according to your own preferences.

Treat it with skepticism

A few illustrations of a patent filed by Apple depicting a virtual reality headset controller shaped like a trigger.
A few illustrations of a patent filed by Apple depicting a virtual reality headset controller shaped like a trigger. Apple

However, there are a couple of reasons to doubt that this patent will ever result in a finished product.

For one thing, Apple has taken a somewhat skeptical and hesitant approach to firearms in the past. In 2016, the company blocked the emergence of a rifle emoji and changed its take on the handgun emoji to one depicting a water pistol, while Apple CEO Tim Cook has often urged U.S. lawmakers to pass stronger gun-control laws. With that in mind, offering an official gun-shaped controller for its Reality Pro headset just doesn’t feel like something Apple is likely to do.

As well as that, multiple rumors have alleged the Reality Pro has been designed to be operated without the need for controllers. It is said to include built-in hand- and eye-tracking tech that would let you type on virtual keyboards and open apps by looking at them and pinching your fingers together. With such a heavy emphasis on that kind of technology, controllers might not even be necessary.

Whatever the reality, we will likely find out about Apple’s approach on June 5, which is when the company kicks off its WWDC event — and likely showcases its mixed-reality headset to the world. When that happens, we’ll get a glimpse of how users will be able to control the device once and for all.

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