It’s Finally Real(ity): Apple’s Vision Pro XR Hardware Reveal Elicits Mixed Excitement and Confusion

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By Eric Abbruzzese | 2Q 2023 | IN-6978

At the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple finally confirmed and unveiled its mixed reality headset, dubbed Vision Pro. Available at US$3,500 next year, questions around its target audience remain.

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 Years in the Making, but Coming Next Year


After nearly a decade of rumors, hirings and firings, Research and Development (R&D), patents, and leaks, Apple’s hardware entry has finally been revealed with Vision Pro. Launching in 2024 at US$3,500, the reveal split focus between enterprise and consumer applications, with a throughline around developer support and capabilities. As expected for the price, the specifications are high end and the design looks as appealing as a Virtual Reality (VR) headset can, given the form factor constraints. It is a feature-complete device, including high-resolution screens and proprietary optics, eye tracking, gesture input, Three-Dimensional (3D) cameras, two Apple silicon chips, spatial audio support, Siri voice control, and digital content lighting/shadowing/occlusion. The shown content and services were also extensive, with more announcements expected leading up to launch. There is still much to be confirmed and revealed, most notably the full spatial tracking capabilities—6 Degrees of Freedom (DoF) tracking (moving in 3D space, rather than just stationary head tracking) was never shown in the announcement—but Vision Pro has quickly swept up nearly all of the Extended Reality (XR) press and interest.

Making Waves in a Challenging Market


There has not been an XR announcement met with the same level of excitement and coverage as Vision Pro. It is the last new device type from Apple in years, and an ambitious one at that. Not seen as leaders in innovation for quite some time, Apple is betting significantly on Vision Pro and XR for the company’s future. Apple sees spatial computing as the next generation of computing, after personal computing and then mobile computing. Whether that turns out to only be marketing hype about the new device announcement remains to be seen, but the company’s track record and significant investment in the XR space lends credence to that vision.

Universally, the first question around the device is the price; US$3,500 is higher than any comparable VR headset available, even the enterprise-targeted Quest Pro from Meta. Meta is Apple’s closest competitor in terms of scale, although the focus is a bit different with Meta pushing the metaverse. It’s also more than an “Apple Tax” as many expected, anywhere from 3X to 10X the price of the VR competition.

While Meta’s Quest headsets are the closest competition for Vision Pro in terms of capability and hardware, the actual competition, ignoring hardware specifics, is the Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap 2, due to the price and targeted usage types. There is also ultra-high-end VR Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Varjo, targeting high-fidelity enterprise use cases like simulation. Despite Vision Pro being a VR headset (rather than augmented or mixed reality, which would use transparent displays), the focus on pass-through, combined with that US$3,500 price point classifies Vision Pro with those high-end mixed reality devices naturally.

Apple framed the high price by comparing the cost to a full home theater setup. It also positioned it favorably as a home office replacement, with users leveraging Vision Pro as a type of external monitor. In those instances, Vision Pro does potentially offer the best solution, especially for users with limited space. This ties in well with Apple’s marketing of Vision Pro as a true next-generation compute type, with enough flexibility in use to build a massive market. All that being said, it is still a very expensive device and faces difficulties unseating incumbent compute types and winning new users.

The most notable departure from competing VR headsets, outside of the price, is the design philosophy. While VR is a difficult form factor to make appealing, Apple seems to have done its best. Apple’s build quality and design language seems to have carried over to VR quite nicely. That design language was also apparent with the operating system and content shown; clearly, it is an iOS and Mac inspired design with what looks like strong care taken regarding user experience. Of course, only hands-on experiences can confirm that, but the limited hands-on impressions do already support that. Apple does not need to do much other than be Apple—as long as the device delivers on expectations for design and build quality and content availability, there will be interest.

Another difference from the rest of the VR market is Apple’s ecosystem and silicon. Vision Pro has Apple’s M2 chip onboard, as well as a dedicated XR chip called R1, handling sensor fusion for the significant sensor array. Apple silicon is a double-edged sword for the market. On the one hand, competition is great and Qualcomm has been dominant in the XR chipset space for years; on the other hand, Apple silicon comes with Apple ecosystem lock-in. Building out a new device type requires as many users as possible, and while VR has had some time to mature, it is still far from mass market. This was expected, of course, but splitting development resources into an entirely new ecosystem will be a challenge to small and mid-size developers and content houses.

Developers First, Enterprises Second, and Consumers Third


Apple did the best it could in its reveal of Vision Pro, mixing the right amount of developer, enterprise, and consumer showcases. Leaning too heavily to one side can severely limit adoption (e.g., a pure developer product, a streamlined enterprise product, or a consumer product searching for an audience). Look to Magic Leap’s first venture in the consumer space for an example of targeting the wrong market.

Ironically, considering the focus on price and hardware, content is the key differentiator for XR broadly and Apple specifically. Vision Pro is promising to launch with support from Disney, the National Basketball Association (NBA), Marvel, and other big content names. Of course, Apple’s services in TV and Arcade will also support Vision Pro at launch. While no dedicated VR game was shown (just a Two-Dimensional (2D) display virtually in a 3D space, it is expected that VR games will be ready at launch or soon after. This is an appropriate mix of content for the consumer side, tackling the content types known to be high value. It may also help engender trust in the platform being worthwhile, having a large amount of supported content on offer (even if only in 2D for now). Immersive 3D movies and volumetric video are also a differentiator—while all VR headsets support 3D, having direct partnerships with huge content houses will drive greater interest in consuming this content in VR. Volumetric video looks truly unique to Vision Pro for now. While there is some volumetric capture and distribution being developed, Apple will likely be the first to productize it.

Apple’s walled garden approach is a concern for development and content access—while relationships with important enterprise partners like Microsoft are necessary and great to see, questions surround Windows and Android development for the device. Additionally, there is a difficult line to walk in enterprise devices between design quality and build quality. Rugged devices rule in high-complexity environments like factory floors. Even in less busy environments, lots of movement and device sharing tend to wear down devices faster than normally seen in the consumer space. At US$3,500 and partially made of glass, a number of potential enterprise customers will be turned off by that combination. This is likely why Apple emphasized work from home as a key use case, not so much work from the office or factory.

Vision Pro is far from the cheapest VR headset available, nor will it likely be the outright “best”—high-end headset OEMs like Varjo will hold that crown, along with the expectedly high prices. However, signs point to Vision Pro being the most cohesive XR ecosystem by next year. Efforts in developer support and content partnerships will help avoid the dreaded “why” question around value to users. VR content has struggled to shed the appearance of a gimmick, despite high-quality content being available for years. Apple will help reduce that stigma.



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