Don’t judge Apple’s VR headset too soon

While Metaverse has largely disappeared from the headlines, a heavily rumored new product launch is poised to roar back. Today we’ll talk about what happened in the world of virtual and mixed reality, let’s leave it at that, and talk about whether Apple can find key applications for headsets beyond the games that have been defined so far.

Monday marks the start of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. Unlike most years, when upcoming software updates dominate the headlines, hardware is expected to take center stage this year. After more than seven years of development, Apple is reportedly set to release the Reality Pro, a roughly $3,000 headset that aims to harness a variety of productivity capabilities. (Apple certainly won’t use “Metaverse” in any of its marketing materials, however, because that’s how convenient it is for those writing about space.)

According to BloombergMark Gurman, a reality pro who has spent his career reporting on the device to reveal every imaginable detail, VR will offer FaceTime calls, high-speed video, and an external display for connected Mac computers. As of January, Gurman announced that the company had yet to find a “killer app” for the device — enough of an experience to justify the higher price tag. And Enable daily use.

Enthusiasm for certain types of digital experiences has faded

While reporting on VR often focuses on middling sales numbers, usage numbers should be arguable. Last year, the Wall Street Journal Six months after purchase, More than half of Meta’s $400 Quest headsets are not in use – a testament to how quickly the novelty of experience fades. (Or, perhaps, how quickly the many difficulties of using the device pile up.)

It’s been almost two years now since Mark Zuckerberg announced in an interview with me that a company called Facebook would pioneer the creation of Metaverse. A year and a half into the pandemic and hundreds of millions of people still stuck at home and out of the office, the move is timely. Video chat and digital entertainment are the only two that connect us with others. Ultimately, it’s not so far-fetched to assume that the next generation of hardware and software will both radically improve those experiences and command more of our time.

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A lot has changed since 2021. As the world has gradually reopened, enthusiasm for certain types of digital experiences has faded. Acting as a sort of proxy for investor confidence in Internet-enabled productivity, Zoom soared to $559 a share in October 2020 — and trades at $67.83 today. Vast, interconnected worlds have captured mass attention Roblox and epic games’ Fortnite, but stubbornly discrete, 2D experiences. (Roblox stock is also now less than a third of its peak price.)

Determined to lead this promising platform shift, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, and today has about 80 percent of the market with its Quest and Quest Pro headsets. According to estimates from market research firm IDC. But headset sales fell 54.4 percent year-on-year. Reuters announced today, and revenue for Meta’s Reality Labs division fell 50 percent last quarter from a year earlier.

Meta’s Quest Pro headset.
Image: Amelia Holovaty Grails / The Verge

initiation $1,500 Meta Quest Pro Last year it aimed to expand the market for headsets beyond gaming applications, as people spend more time with them. But sales estimates suggest the response to features like virtual desktops and VR conference rooms has been anemic. (In the opening chapter of Hard Fork, We gathered in one of those VR conference rooms; (I remember the experience primarily because of how difficult it was to implement everyone’s system.)

One of the best gifts of the AI ​​frenzy of the last six months has been the clarity of day when and how the consumer will behave. In fact Excited about something. ChatGPT was a product that people brought to me in everyday life before I even discovered I was a tech reporter; Seven months after launch, 12 percent of Americans already use it for work. There’s something deeply funny about the fact that after spending billions of dollars promoting VR and crypto, it’s a text box that’s really caught the world’s attention again.

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All of which is to say: Apple has its work cut out here. The company’s near-term ambitions remain prudently cautious. (“Initially it hoped it could sell 3 million units a year right out of the gate, but it revised that estimate to about 1 million, then 900,000 units,” Gurman said. reported last month. “By comparison, the company sells more than 200 million iPhones a year.”) Ultimately, the company envisions a world where knowledge workers wear headsets all day.

Only through constant iteration will the company’s devices eventually break

That won’t be possible anytime soon. The headsets are too bulky, the battery life too short, and the reported design comes across as obvious compromises to appeal to all but the most enthusiastic early adopters. That suggests Reality Pro will benefit Apple more as a reason to draw customers to the demo area in the company’s retail stores than as a business on the iPhone scale, given the lack of a killer app.

Meanwhile, the meta will press its advantage at the lower end of the market. Today the company said the Meta Quest 3 will go on sale this fall for $500, with a more powerful processor, improved display and slimmer design. (The company also slashed the price of its Quest 2 headset by $100.) It remains to be seen whether Meta or Apple can address the tendency for consumers who buy devices to toss them in a drawer and forget about them. (My humble request is that any company should develop VR chat What Google is doing with light-field displays in Project Starline is just as compelling..)

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All that said: Monday may not be the time to judge whether Apple has won or lost. Reality Pro won’t even be on sale today. From the iPhone to the Apple Watch, the company’s 1.0 releases often come with obvious limitations. Only through constant iteration — and support from third-party developers — do enterprise devices eventually break. I waited until the Series 5 to buy an Apple Watch, the first model with an always-on display. I can’t imagine not having the device on my wrist today. The segment generated $41 billion last year. It got there.

Aside from ChatGPT making a conscious switch, it could take four or more years until any company manages to solve the technical and creative challenges required for a true VR-centric platform transition. But the Metaverse is disappointing in some respects, and it’s obvious to anyone willing to look at the incremental improvements year after year.

Regardless of the hurdles it has to overcome, Apple usually gets the hardware in the end. The thing to keep in mind on Monday is that in this case, the decision is still a long time coming.

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