The Apple Vision Pro marks a turning point in the AR/VR market

Apple’s headset is finally here, and is taking a physical reality-first approach.
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· 4 min read

“It’s the first Apple product you look through, and not at.”

That’s how CEO Tim Cook introduced Apple’s long-awaited headset, the Apple Vision Pro, at Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference. While Apple isn’t the first to market with this type of headset, Cook positioned its arrival as a new era in consumer technology: “In the same way that Mac introduced us to personal computing, and iPhone introduced us to mobile computing, Apple Vision Pro will introduce us to spatial computing,” he said.

The Vision Pro will be available in the US in early 2024 at a price of $3,499. (Meta announced last week that it would charge $499 for its Quest 3 headset.)

Despite the steep price, it’s hard to overstate the significance of Apple’s entry into an industry that has faced both technical challenges and consumer resistance.

“From a hardware perspective, [Apple Vision Pro] surpasses whatever else is on the market,” Jitesh Ubrani, a research manager for IDC’s worldwide mobile device trackers, said. “That’s great news for not only Apple but for developers, as well.”

Ubrani said he expects Apple’s entry will accelerate attention and investment in AR/VR experiences. “That’s what Apple can do to any new market that it enters, which I don’t think any other company is capable of.”

Defining the market

The sleek—albeit ski goggle-like—headset was Apple’s first major product announcement since the Apple Watch. It’s enabled by exterior-facing cameras and its interface is controlled by eye movements, hand gestures, and voice. Users can switch between AR and VR settings.

It features 23 million pixels across two displays, and is powered by both the Apple M1 chip and a new R1 chip, which processes input from 12 cameras, plus five sensors and six microphones, streaming images to the headset displays in 12 milliseconds, Apple said. The headset will run on a new operating system, visionOS, and will have its own app store.

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But it’s not just the hardware that sets Apple’s approach to AR/VR apart.

“Some of the distinction is how they presented it,” Tuong Nguyen, a director analyst on Gartner’s Emerging Technologies and Trends team, said. “This is about being in the world around you, rather than being in an imaginary space…I think that’s the big distinction that they were making: physical reality first.”

Ubrani said he was surprised to see how much of Apple’s presentation was geared toward consumers, with a focus on games, movies, photo, and video, as opposed to enterprise use cases.

“Realistically speaking, at launch…this will still be a device that caters to a more commercial audience, just because of its price point,” he said. “But what they showed us today was…very consumer-oriented content, and at that price point it’s not a very accessible headset for most consumers.”

Ultimately, the success of Vision Pro will depend on developer activity and the type of content available to users, Ubrani said.

“The assumption is that Apple can not only get developers to work on games but also productivity apps and experiences or consumer experiences that are beyond gaming,” Ubrani said. “That will be a key indicator of Apple’s success in this market, because once you move beyond gaming, you can appeal to a much larger audience.”

Nguyen said the Vision Pro could be an attempt to gain a foothold in the still-nascent market. “Maybe this is a way to keep some momentum going…and put a foot in the next era,” he said.

But the long-anticipated release is just another step toward making AR mainstream, Nguyen added.

“This is a point of validation, and it was needed, but it can’t be the last point. It needs to be revalidated by Apple as well as the rest of the industry over and over and over again.”

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