Don’t judge Apple’s virtual reality glasses too soon

Just when the metaverse has mostly faded from the headlines, it looks like a hotly rumored new product launch is poised to bring it back again. Today let’s talk about what has happened in the world of VR and mixed reality since we last left it and whether Apple can find mainstream uses for its headset beyond the games it has identified so far.

Monday marks the start of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Unlike most years, when upcoming software updates dominate the keynote, this year hardware is expected to take center stage. After more than seven years in development, Apple is said to be preparing to unveil the Reality Pro, a roughly $3,000 headset that aims to serve a variety of productivity uses. (Apple will almost certainly not use the “metaverse” in any marketing materials, though it may be appropriate for those of us writing about the space.)

according to bloombergMark GormanReality Pro, which has been in the reporting business for its career, will provide nearly every detail imaginable about the device, VR FaceTime calls, immersive video, and an external monitor for connected Mac computers, among other features. But as of January, Gurman reports that the company has yet to discover a “killer app” for the device — an experiment compelling enough to justify the high price. And Driving daily use.

Enthusiasm for some kinds of digital experiences has died down

While reports about virtual reality often focus on average sales numbers, it could be argued that usage numbers should be of greater concern. last year , Wall Street Journal I mentioned that six months after the purchase, More than half of the Meta’s $400 headphones are no longer in use – a testament to how quickly the novelty of experience tends to fade. (Or, perhaps, how quickly the many inconveniences of using the device accumulate.)

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It’s now been nearly two years since Mark Zuckerberg announced, in an interview with me, that the company then called Facebook would focus on building the metaverse. A year and a half into the pandemic, with hundreds of millions of people still closer to their homes and away from their desks, this move was perfectly timed. Back then, video chatting and digital entertainment were the only things that connected us to other people. It wasn’t too far to assume that eventually, next-generation hardware and software would radically improve those experiences and control more of our time as they did.

However, a lot has changed since 2021. As the world gradually reopens, enthusiasm for some types of digital experiences has waned. Zoom, which served as a kind of proxy for investors’ faith in internet-powered productivity, peaked at $559 per share in October 2020 — and is trading today at $67.83. Vast and interconnected worlds captured great interest in Roblox and epic games Fortnite, but stubbornly remain, two-dimensional experiences. (Roblox stock is now worth less than a third of its peak price.)

Facebook, which was so determined to lead this hopeful platform shift that it renamed itself Meta, today has nearly 80 percent of the market with its Quest and Quest Pro headsets, According to market research firm IDC. But headphone sales fell 54.4 percent year-on-year, Reuters I reported today, revenue from the Meta Reality Labs division was down 50 percent in the most recent quarter compared to a year earlier.

Meta Quest Pro.
Photo: Amelia Hollowaty Krales/The Verge

launch the.. launch the.. take off the $1,500 Meta Quest Pro The goal last year was to expand the headphone market beyond the gaming uses that make up most of the time people spend with them. But sales estimates indicate that response to features such as virtual desktops and virtual reality conference rooms has been weak. (In an early episode of hard forkAnd We met in a virtual reality conference room; I remember the experience primarily for how difficult it was to run the setup for everyone.)

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One of the great gifts of the AI ​​obsession of the past six months is that it has shown us, clearly today, what it is like to consumers In reality Get excited about something. ChatGPT is a product people throw at me in everyday life before they find out I’m a tech messenger; approximately seven months after launch, 12 percent of Americans have already used it at work. There is something very funny about the fact that after spending billions of dollars amplifying virtual reality and cryptocurrency, the product that once again caught the world’s attention was a text box.

All of this is to say: Apple has cut out its work here. The company’s near-term ambitions are cautiously guarded. (“She initially hoped she could sell about 3 million units a year out of the gate, but she narrowed those estimates to about 1 million units, and then to 900,000 units,” Gorman says. I mentioned last month. “By comparison, the company sells more than 200 million iPhones a year.”) Ultimately, though, the company envisions a world where knowledge workers wear headphones like these all day.

Only through constant iteration can the company’s hardware finally break through

That won’t be possible any time soon. The headphones sound too bulky, the battery life is too short, and the reported design is too laden with obvious compromises to appeal to all but the most enthusiastic early adopters. That, along with the lack of a killer app, suggests Reality Pro will benefit Apple more as a reason to entice customers into the demo area at the company’s retail stores than as an iPhone-wide business.

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Meanwhile, Meta will press its advantage on the lower end of the market. The company said today that the Meta Quest 3 will go on sale this fall for $500, with a more powerful processor, improved screen, and slimmer design. (The company also slashed the price of the Quest 2 headset by $100.) It remains to be seen whether Meta or Apple can resolve the tendency of consumers who have bought devices to toss them in a drawer and forget about them. (My humble request is that either company do a VR chat As compelling as what Google does with Project Starline’s light field displays.)

All that said: Monday wouldn’t be the time to judge whether Apple succeeded or failed. And it won’t be the day Reality Pro goes on sale. From the iPhone to the Apple Watch, 1.0 launches often come with obvious limitations. It’s only through constant iteration — and support from third-party developers — that the company’s hardware finally falls apart. I waited to buy an Apple Watch until the Series 5, the first model with an always-on display. Today I can’t imagine not having the device on my wrist. The division made $41 billion last year. I got there.

Barring ChatGPT becoming conscious, it will likely be four years or more before any company can solve the technical and creative challenges needed to usher in a true VR-based platform transformation. But as disappointing as the metaverse is in some ways, the incremental improvements from year to year are obvious to anyone willing to look.

Whatever 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 end is still far away.

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