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Apple’s Secretive AR and VR Headset Plans Altered by Internal Differences

Mike Rockwell’s team of 1,000 engineers aims to create the company’s biggest hits since the iPhone.

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Illustration: Sophi Gullbrants for Bloomberg Businessweek

In late 2018, Apple Inc. was a few years into its plan to build a powerful headset with both virtual- and augmented-reality capabilities when things shifted dramatically. Jony Ive, then the company’s design chief, objected to some fundamental aspects of the product and urged Apple to change course.

The headset was to be the first major launch from the company since the Apple Watch and the debut device from the Technology Development Group, a secretive unit devoted to VR and AR. The TDG is led by an equally under-the-radar executive, Mike Rockwell. After stints at Dolby Laboratories Inc. and media-editing software company Avid Technology Inc., Rockwell, 53, was hired in 2015 by Dan Riccio, Apple’s top hardware executive. At first his role was loosely defined, according to interviews with current and former employees who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. Representatives for Apple and Ive declined to comment, and the company didn’t make Rockwell available for an interview.