HoloKit X Showed Me How an iPhone Can Turn Into an AR Headset for $129

Meta’s new VR/AR Quest Pro The helmet costs $1,500. A HoloLens 2? $3,500. Light Pack 2? $3,000. The little HoloKit XI used to swipe AR fireballs at a holographic avatar with my magic wand? $129. All you need is an iPhone.

Before VR it was easy and you could walk into a Target or Best Buy, companies like Samsung and Google buy cheap glasses you will send your phone to see small, but amazing virtual images. Using the HoloKit X brought me back to that time almost ten years ago, but now for AR. The simple and head-mounted display that many iPhones use to lean on their built-in AR capabilities creates a head-mounted display that I can see on my screen.

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I tried some demonstrations of HoloKit X in the NFT studio in New York, led by its creator, Amber Hu. The Holokit project has been something Hu has been working on for years, but the new headset is one that Hu thinks is ready to take on due to the nature of advanced devices like the iPhone.

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HoloKit X and iPhone classes included

The HoloKit X uses an iPhone to power AR, projecting the display onto a semi-reflective mirror and viewing through the lenses.


My shows are mixed bag. I saw 3D objects, like a glowing Buddha made of flying dots, appear in front of me. HoloKit X works with hands, so I can hold my hands to “touch” a 3D object. The headset causes the iPhone to vibrate, so when I hear the feedback on my screen it’s not as strange as you might think.

I found that the items didn’t stay put all the time, though, and sometimes they just slipped. According to Hu, it’s because of the taxing power of the iPhone processor, and work on solutions to optimize the experience (it’s better for me and still stand).

However, the technology allows the headset to track all movements using iPhone cameras, similar to the VR or AR headset with its built-in cameras. Hu wants to go even further, using the Apple Watch as a motion detector for some apps (the fact that I used my magic wand to swipe attacks used the Apple Watch for pointing). Spatial audio, even when moving around, works while wearing AirPods.

The head wears HoloKit X AR goggles and a mask

I’m wearing the HoloKit X (with a mask). It fits over my glasses, but it looks really cute.

Scott Stein/CNET

The headset is nothing more than a phone holder combined with an angled mirror that reflects the iPhone display in my view: OLED displays allow iPhones like me to create AR effects and really light when the display is black. The phone automatically reaches and connects to the glasses using NFC, and a display unit on the top of the glasses works seamlessly as a touch screen to launch or exit. apps, and other controls. The rubber headband stretches well over my large head, and the rubber-lined goggles fit over my glasses without too much pressure.

The whole idea, which is to combine iPhones, the Apple Watch and AirPods in an AR headset experience, is exactly what I thought Apple was aiming for with its AR headset – but the Holokit X is in action now, for just $129. Well, the experience so far is like “you get what you pay for,” and it’s hard to say how many applications will work with this header in the future (Hu insists the header isn’t it’s a developer kit, but it’s going to be a product that relies on artists and partners to create experiences). Meanwhile, the HoloKit X app I tested on TestFlight that will be available from the App Store at the end of the month only has nine experiences, which Hu calls “Realities.” Hu sees shared AR experience as a set of rules, and shared experiences are key to where HoloKit X can go.

Sharing is the best way to wear a headset. Multiple people can play the app-like Realities at the same time with other headsets and their phones using the app. The app can also record and share videos, and AR effects can be placed on people to create mixed reality that is currently difficult to create on other AR headsets (see embedded video to see an example).

While the HoloKit X looks like a work in progress, I also like it. Art galleries trying to develop AR experiences can use cheap headsets like this for visitors instead of investing in expensive headsets. The app’s cross-platform support for regular mobile AR means that the headset is capable – just as fast as most free AR players today.

As more AR headsets begin to arrive over the next few years, HoloKit X asks that intriguing question. Gear VR and Daydream asked years ago… can we have these experiences happen more often? Maybe our calls were always answered correctly.


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