It’s a day of celebration! Now that Apple has actually announced its long-anticipated mixed-reality headset, we’re all free of the endless rumour stories about its features, costs and release date.
Although that may just mean the endless-rumourmongers turn their attention to Apple Car speculation again… But yes, the Apple Vision Pro was unveiled last night during the keynote session at Apple’s WWDC event.
Not that it’s a headset. The announcement post calls it a ‘spatial computer’ and the H-word is used precisely zero times in the transcript of the session. It’s a very Apple move to differentiate its new product from existing devices in its category.
It is mixed-reality though: a set of space-age goggles (note, also not Apple’s wording) that can handle both augmented and virtual reality, from games and movies to projecting your digital workspace around you. Spatial audio tech is a key part of the package, building on Apple’s work with that in existing devices and services.
Music wasn’t a focus for the unveiling of the Vision Pro, although there was confirmation that Apple Music will work with it.
A dedicated App Store will enable developers to release musical experiences though: we’d expect several of the popular music apps and games available on other headsets to be ported across in the future.
More widely, the new device offers an important insight into how Apple sees the next era of computing interfaces, as a comparison to how Meta has set out its stall with its Quest headsets and services.
One key difference is accessibility. Apple’s Vision Pro won’t be available until early 2024, and only in the US (other countries will follow “later next year”) with a price starting at $3,499. That’s seven times the price of Meta’s Quest 3, the $499.99 headset that was unveiled last week with a “later this year” release window.
We suspect Apple would not see this as a fair like-for-like comparison: as unhelpful as pointing to the price difference between a top-spec MacBook and a mass-market Windows laptop. That said, in another device category – smart speakers – its original HomePod struggled for market traction against cheaper rivals from Amazon and Google.
However, a clue to how we could think about Vision Pro is in the name: it’s setting out Apple’s vision for mixed reality and spatial computing, to gather feedback for future iterations. It’s very much about the long game, as it is with Meta.
It has to be, really, because thus far AR/VR headsets haven’t been the smash hit their evangelists have hoped for.
Research firm IDC recently estimated that global shipments of these headsets were just 8.8m units in 2022, nearly 80% of which were Meta devices. Those shipments were down 20.9% year-on-year, and while IDC expects 14% growth in 2023, that would still only be 10.1m units.
In short, it’s been harder than expected to convince people that strapping computers on their faces is fun and/or useful. Yet two of the world’s biggest technology companies believe they can change that.
Even if you’re sceptical, it’s still fascinating to think about how, if they’re right, these devices might be used to consume (and create) music in the future.