Apple’s new VR headset will disappoint, but that’s okay

Apple is expected to announce its first VR headset at the Worldwide Developer Conference in Cupertino, which kicks off on June 5. The headset is the biggest new product Apple has introduced since the Apple Watch eight years ago, though it’s almost certain that the device won’t see anywhere near the sales numbers Apple’s other wearables have enjoyed since launch.

Many details of the device have leaked in recent months: it will likely be called Reality One or Reality Pro, run a customized version of iOS dubbed xrOS, and have a whopping $3,000 price tag. For that money, consumers will get a lightweight headset described as a bit like ski goggles. The device won’t require a computer or phone to run engaging apps, but will rely on an external battery pack meant to be carried in your pocket and connected via a short cable.

The headset will feature external-facing cameras that can feed a live video feed of people’s surroundings into the headset, where this so-called pass-through video view can be combined with virtual elements, an approach known as mixed reality . Consumers will reportedly be able to quickly switch back and forth between a real-world view and full immersion in virtual reality via a physical dial or button.

It will reportedly run a number of first- and third-party virtual reality apps, including games, fitness and meditation apps, as well as the ability to watch movies, sports and other live events in VR. The device will likely offer access to existing iPad apps, including many of Apple’s apps and services.

One of the most obvious differentiators from existing VR gear, according to multiple reports, will be a world-facing display to show the headset wearer’s facial expression to onlookers, a feature meant to make use of the device less an isolating experience. Another feature the company could highlight at its launch event is the ability to make FaceTime calls with people using phones, tablets, and computers.

It’s doubtful that’s enough to get many Apple fans to open their wallets. The high price tag and lack of focus could severely suppress sales, and the brand new announcement of a relatively more affordable Meta Quest headset coming this fall will further complicate the picture. Apple itself has lowered its first-year sales expectations from 3 million to just 900,000 units, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

However, experts may want to think twice before calling Apple’s entry into the virtual reality market a real mistake. For one thing, it’s a market that has seen a significant increase in recent times. Meta has sold approximately 20 million Quest 2 VR headsets since late 2020, and the Quest app store has surpassed $1.5 billion in app and game sales. Of the more than 500 titles in the Quest store, 40 have had sales exceeding $10 million, and hits like “Beat Saber” have generated nine-figure revenue.

It’s also worth mentioning that many of Apple’s best-selling products got off to a slow start initially. The aforementioned Apple Watch reportedly sold just 10 million units in its first year, far short of the 40 million goal the company set internally. Four years later, the Apple Watch is said to have surpassed the entire Swiss watch industry.

The iPhone wasn’t exactly an overnight success either. During the fiscal year the company introduced the original iPhone, it sold just 1.4 million units, and sales fell short of 12 million in the following fiscal year. Now, 15 years later, the iPhone has transformed Apple into the world’s most valuable company, with an estimated 25% global smartphone market share.

Whether Apple can repeat such a success story in the nascent VR market ultimately hinges on the company’s ability to stand out from the competition, understand a market need, and focus on that use case. All of this requires a multi-year journey with devices that get better and more affordable over time. Next week, Apple is simply ready to take the first step.

Janko Roettgers is the author of Lowpass, a weekly newsletter on the future of technology and entertainment. Previously a senior reporter for Variety and Protocol, he also contributes to Fast Company, The Verge and other outlets. On June 15, his special report “Getting Real About VR” is released on the Variety Intelligence Platform.

#Apples #headset #disappoint

Leave a Comment