Will Apple Become the First Success AR/VR Story?
Apple has hardly been a pioneer in technology – it didn’t invent the first smartphone but when it introduced the iPhone in 2007 it effectively launched the smartphone era. The same goes for the iPod, the iPad, the AirPod and Apple Watch – all of them followed in the steps of similar products before them. The company’s strategy of taking cutting-edge technology and design and turning it into something cool, trendy and essentially a product that everyone wants to use in their everyday lives was and still is the secret of Apple’s success. In fact,its truly major accomplishment is the fact that the tech giant became the first $3-trilllion market value company in history and also the most valuable one in the world.
Now, Apple wants to use the same strategy for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) with its newest major consumer product called Vision Pro. Apple is hoping that Vision Pro will finally bring virtual and augmented reality to the mainstream. And, figuratively speaking, put the technology into everyone’s pocket and literally speaking – on the top of everyone’s head… or as Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said “it‘s the first Apple product you look through, and not at.”

The main reason for us to cover this new product is its potential importance for the TV and streaming industry as the company’s promise is that it will allow consumers to watch TV series and movies, turning into a 3D screen. More or less, the current AR/VR headsets are used for gaming and even though they have come a long way since the launch of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive six years, they are hardly part of everyday life – in fact VR/AR have only niche status.

According to almost all reviews of VR headsets that TVBIZZ Magazine consulted, Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 (available at Amazon for $299) is the top pick in terms of approachability, build quality, comfort and cost. Meta’s problem with VR was that people didn’t really want to wear heavy masks. The company has sold about 20 million Quest headsets but many gather dust. The hope may have been to create all-consuming immersive worlds, but the only big VR successes so far are short-attention-span novelties such as rhythm games and filth, the Financial Times notes.

When Facebook rebranded as Meta in October 2021, it drew attention to VR and the metaverse headsets could enable. But since then, sales for existing VR headsets has been far from spectacular, usage has been worse and the anticipated proliferation of successful VR software companies hasn’t happened. It will try to change that with the newQuest 3 headset which “features breakthrough mixed reality that enables a spectrum of experiences,” according to the company. It also supports streaming apps like Peacock and Pluto TV, as well as YouTube VR.

Apple officially revealed its new high-end AR/VR headset on in June at the Worldwide Developers Conference in Cupertino, California. The company is calling the Vision Pro its “most ambitious product ever”. The Vision Pro will feature twin micro-OLED displays, a brand-new chip, will cost $3.499, and won’t be available until early 2024.

And that last sentence brings us to the $3-billion question – will Apple revolutionize AR/VR and/or at least the way we watch TV or stream content? No, at least not at first, not at this price point – $3.500 most definitely is not a price tag many people can afford for a device of this type. Especially keeping in mind that Meta’s new Quest 3 headset, launched October 10, costs only $500. One other really major thing: Android users may find it not relevant, given that Vision Pro’s ecosystem seamlessly integrates only with other Apple devices. And Android is not going away anytime soon… Then there’s the health issues - it is still debatable whether prolonged usage might cause eye strain, headaches, and a general feeling of discomfort. Headsets are not exactly binge watching-friendly. Then there’s battery life: Apple made the decision to exclude the battery from the Vision Pro headset. Instead, the device relies on an external battery pack for power, and as a result, the battery life of Vision Pro is limited to approximately 2 hours per single charge (but you can plug the device into a power socket if you want to watch a longer movie). And last but not least – using the device is a singular experience – one person can use it at a time - and most people do love sharing that experience (cinema attendance is definitely up post-COVID).

According to a review in the Financial Times Apple’s vision about the devices faces a handful of hurdles that means the Vision Pro is not ready for mass consumption, including the lack of a “killer app” (but it Is true that Apple has about 34 million developers for its current phones and that is a huge resource it could encourage to build the killer app that would turn its headset into a must-have), technological challenges (no one wants to carry an external battery pack which the device uses via cable), and a high price point that means initially, the Vision Pro will be mostly targeted towards a more specialized TAM of professionals and pro-sumers. Analysts don’t expect Apple’s headset to turn into a significant source of revenue immediately, but they believe Apple is dipping a toe into a market that could one day be worth billions. “By 2030, I believe the wearables/glasses segment could account for 10% of Apple’s sales (assuming they don’t release a car), a similar size business as Mac and iPad are today,” said Gene Munster, founder of Deepwater Asset Management, in an email to CNBC.

Apple insists this isn’t merely a virtual reality headset; it’s a wearable computer that lets you trade desktop screens for a limitless display while you work or do your daily chores. The Vision Pro will also let you watch TV shows and movies in 3D on a screen that’s as big as your eyesight. We all know 3D was once the “next big thing”. It was – for a relatively short time. Apple now wants to revive the technology (Make 3D Great Again?). Apple has not outlined how it is actually going to deliver 3D movies to Vision Pro so it is interesting that The Information has learned that Apple has an internal team called Z50 working on 3D content for Apple TV+. It may be announced later for Vision Pro – or not. At an event, Apple gave select journalists a chance to try the headset through some carefully selected demonstrations including a clip of Avatar: The Way of Water in 3D. What is encouraging, though, is the reaction of the majority of the journalists who have tried the Vision Pro and its 3D feature – they all say it was much better than anticipated.

During the WWDC23 keynote event presenting Vision Pro, Apple did not focus on gaming at all. Vision Pro was presented as an augmented reality tool for productivity, communication, and work. Existing Apple products like FaceTime will work with Vision Pro, and the headset can also be used to view your photos, videos, and panoramas as if they were life-size.

Pixelplex notes that Vision Pro is expected to be useful in areas such as remote working, product design, education and learning, fashion, and entertainment. Once it becomes widely available through mass production, it holds the potential to gain recognition in other domains as well. Of course, for the purpose of this article, the entertainment use case is the main focus. The high-resolution displays of Apple Vision Pro make it possible for users to literally immerse themselves and enjoy a full-blown, IMAX-like experience of their favorite movies and cartoons. When wearing Vision Pro, a user can even feel as if they are in the same room as the characters and can walk right up to them or be approached by them.

Disney has already partnered with Apple to enhance the viewing experience of its streaming service, Disney+. This collaboration aims to introduce immersive experiences with the help of this sophisticated new device. The demo reel for the collaboration between Disney and Apple included 3D visuals of a basketball court, showing how users could be immersed in sports contests from home, as well as immersive National Geographic content that placed the viewer in the middle of the ocean. “It will allow us to create deeply personal experiences that bring our fans closer to the characters they love,” Disney’s Bob Iger said. “This platform will allow us to bring Disney to our fans in ways that were previously impossible,” it was announced during Apple’s WWDC 2023 keynote.

Here is where things get really interesting: Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes that Apple could be planning augmented reality „contact lenses“ that could launch sometime in the 2030s. According to Kuo, the lenses will bring electronics from the era of „visible computing“ to „invisible computing.“ There is „no visibility“ for the contact lenses at the current time, and it‘s not a guaranteed product that Apple will develop.

Apple was also developing augmented reality „Apple Glasses“ that were supposed to launch a year or so after the headset, but the project has been placed on hold so the company can instead focus on a cheaper version of the AR/VR headset. Apple Glasses are expected to launch in 2027 at the earliest.

Many people in the industry believe Apple’s announcement will energize consumers and software developers and bring the technology closer to its ultimate promise: a headset you wear daily, as you go about your business, or perhaps a pair of lightweight glasses, helping you with contextual information.

“It’s good to see others get into this business, particularly Apple, who doesn’t jump into markets too early,” Magic Leap CEO Peggy Johnson told CNBC. “That is a huge validation of what we have been doing to date, and we welcome that, because it’s also good for the ecosystem.”

“Industry practitioners spend a lot of time explaining the differences between augmented, virtual and mixed reality. If Apple can demystify the whole industry for the public, it could end up with the first headset mainstream consumers understand and want”, CNBC notes.

What Apple should hope for its Vision Pro is that it doesn’t fall into the “Avatar Effect” trap that 3D fell victim to because, let’s face it, 3D TV is dead. Although 3D movie viewing goes back decades, the release of James Cameron‘s Avatar in 2009 was a game-changer (probably this is the reason why Apple used clips from the latest installment of the franchise when presenting its new headset). As Lifewire notes movie studios not only started pumping out a steady stream of 3D movies into movie theaters but TV makers, beginning with Panasonic and LG, made 3D available for home viewing with the introduction of 3D TV. But we all witnessed what happened to 3D entertainment at home. The 3D TV demise was influenced by three major factors: unfortunate timing, expensive and incompatible glasses and extra costs. Let us hope lessons were learned and Apple is not looking through rose-colored glasses regarding the future of AI/VR… ′
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