Apple has entered the virtual and augmented reality arena, announcing a long-anticipated new headset and platform called Vision Pro.
CEO Tim Cook called VR and AR “profound technology” with “revolutionary” potential during the climactic minutes of the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (watch it above, with Vision Pro starting at the 1 hour 23 minute mark). Cook said the product followed in the illustrious lineage of the company’s Mac personal computer line and the iPhone. It is the first major new device launch by the company since the Apple Watch nine years ago.
The company said its “spatial computing” system relies on a fluid interface picking up on signals and movements from a user’s eyes and hands as well as Siri voice recognition. Those inputs differ from those of many existing VR setups, which require the use of physical controllers along with headsets.
Innovation comes at a cost with all things Apple, of course. The Vision Pro will retail at $3,499 when it begins shipping in 2024, many times the $499 price tag of Meta’s Quest 3.
Apple’s entry is premised on a user experience in which real-life activity happening around the headset continues to be displayed to users wearing it, in combination with images pulled up from apps or games. Instead of the hermetic experience generally available on headsets today, the tech giant is positioning the Vision Pro as a best-of-all-worlds solution worthy of its eye-watering cost. “Blending digital content with the real world can unlock experiences like nothing we’ve ever seen,” Cook said.
Videos accompanying remarks by Cook and other execs showed use cases like an office worker receiving a note from a colleague, who is fully visible as the full frame width also displays spreadsheets and calendar notifications. In another scene, a videoconference shows video of the speakers alongside a shared presentation deck, with a real-life apartment in the background.
Punctuating the presentation, Disney CEO Bob Iger made a pre-recorded appearance, clad in a jeans and sneakers. He said the Vision Pro will allow his company to create “deeply personal experiences that bring our fans closer to the characters they love and more deeply immersed in our story.” Disney+ will be available on the Vision Pro on the first day it becomes available, Iger added. The companies’ partnership will also include certain “hero experiences” and a sneak-peek video featured a sense of how Marvel, The Mandalorian, Disneyland, ESPN and Mickey Mouse would be integrated into headset-specific releases. Disney under Iger has had a relationship with Apple since 2005, when the companies set a game-changing teaming for film and TV titles to be made available for download via iTunes.
While Sony and a division of ByteDance have mounted serious efforts in VR hardware, Meta Platforms has made the highest-profile bet on the emerging sector. It renamed the entire company from Facebook to reflect its new strategic focus and has pumped billions of dollars into its Reality Labs unit, acknowledging it would be a long-term initiative that loses money during its early phase.
Despite all of the investment, VR and the metaverse have not been unanimously determined to be the life-changing evolutionary stage depicted by boosters. Total sales of headsets in 2022 dropped 21% from 2021, totaling 8.8 million, and fell by more than half in the first quarter of 2023.
Part of the pitch for the Vision Pro at its super-premium price point, as the Disney segment demonstrated, is that it can even replace a mobile device or TV. Complete with 4K resolution, the idea is that can create a more engaging viewing experience than can be had in the non-augmented world, though to start its battery life is two hours. The scenario of strapping on a headset for movie and TV viewing will depend on the level of comfort users have with wearing one for an extended periods. Complaints about existing headsets have centered on their weight and the heat generated by their processors, along with dizziness and nausea setting in during longer sessions.
In anticipation of the events onstage, Apple stock hit an all-time high, gaining 2% to just shy of $185 before sinking into the red as investors digested the day’s news. Shares ended the day off 1% but they have risen almost 40% in 2023 thus far, several times the increase of the benchmark S&P 500 and within sight of a $3 trillion valuation for the company.
While the headset stole the show, Apple revealed a wide range of offerings, from new laptops and AirPods to iOS and Watch updates. New iterations of Apple TV and iOS will enable users to FaceTime on a big screen and leave video voicemail messages. Deadline