Apple finally entered the extended reality space this week with the debut of the Vision Pro. Investment in the XR category is risky as consumers remain skeptical and have yet to adopt these solutions consistently. Amid the flurry of first impressions two questions dominated the discourse: At this price, who is this product for? And, will Apple’s venture into the XR space succeed?
Apple delivered impressive tech with some of the highest-quality optics to date. The headset is powered by dual chipsets: the M2 processor handles computing, while R1 custom silicon powers sensors enabling mixed-reality capabilities, including adjustable immersion levels and a 3D camera. Apple mitigated motion sickness due to latency and the dual 4k displays are sharp enough to read text easily, a feat in the XR world. Superior eye and hand-tracking provide an unmatched, gesture-based interface eliminating the need for arms to remain outstretched. The EyeSight feature projects a live feed of the wearer’s eyes to an external display, creating an illusion of translucent glass. Sensors track and reconstruct surrounding objects in passthrough mode, while breakthrough content appears if someone approaches the user. The Vision Pro accommodates a two-way exchange of information, solving some long-standing barriers to a truly immersive, interactive experience.
While Apple positions the Vision Pro as an AR device within a new “spatial computing” category, the Vision Pro contains some limitations more typical of VR devices. The headset is reminiscent of traditional, cumbersome VR goggles. An external, corded, two-hour battery pack limits mobile usage time and seems to be a step backwards. A limited number of apps will be available from Apple and other developers such as Adobe Lightroom and Microsoft office- enough for basic productivity and entertainment needs, but lacking a captivating ‘feature app’. With no talk of 5G connectivity, it’s assumed the Vision Pro is dependent on WiFi. Despite the possibilities AR has to offer, the Vision Pro’s designs limit the experience to an interior, sedentary one. These limitations, combined with an eye-popping price tag and little emphasis on gaming, left many uncertain of commercial appeal. The two dominant use cases presented this week depict users viewing movies and working on virtual displays in home offices. A case could be made for the use of large-scale ambient computing in enterprise, but for now, heads-up display is out of reach given the VR goggle form factor. If Apple can cross into smart glasses, use cases could expand.
The Vision Pro ultimately serves Apple in 3 ways: immediately positioning Apple as a leader in the category, attracting developers, and acting as catalyst for industry investment. Its noteworthy features appeal to creators and will motivate developers to design apps that generate user demand. With time, Apple will improve software, refine design, and reduce price, identifying popular use cases along the way. The Vision Pro is a bridge to mass consumption of XR with potential to displace laptops. Leadership defined a new computing paradigm, with no mention of VR, XR, or the metaverse, instead opting for “spatial computing” and the occasional reference to “AR”. CEO, Tim Cook, highlighted Apple’s continued leadership in computing: “in the same way that Mac introduced us to personal computing, then the iPhone to mobile computing, Vision Pro will introduce us to spatial computing.”
The price, hype and tech of the Vision Pro reflects Apple’s characteristic positioning as a disrupter with aspirational appeal: in the smartphone market, Apple has over 80% share of profitability, while only 20% share of shipments. At $3,499, the Vision Pro is quite comparable to existing enterprise products (Microsoft Hololens 2 launched at $3,500 in 2019 and Magic Leap 2 launched at $3,299 in 2022). Vision Pro is arguably an AR device so comparing it to VR headsets is not quite apples to apples (Quest Pro $399-$999, HTC Vive from $499-$1,249 and Sony Playstation VR at $549). Estimates of Meta Platforms Inc’s market share of the VR market hovers around 80%, but Apple could very well command share of the market, as analyst guesses on shipments range from 200k to a million units. While Google, Microsoft and Meta battle in the AI market, Apple is changing the conversation and distancing itself from competitors as it attempts to gain a large share of the AR/XR market.
For more information on wearables and the impact of AR in the enterprise market, look for VDC’s 2023 Enterprise Wearables report coming soon.