A new product that has been heavily rumored is poised to bring the metaverse back into the spotlight. Let’s discuss what has happened since we last left the virtual and mixed-reality world and if Apple can find mainstream applications for headsets beyond the games which have defined it to date.
Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference begins on Monday. This year, unlike most years when software updates are the focus of the keynote, hardware will be at center stage. Apple will reportedly unveil the Reality Pro headset, which is expected to cost around $3,000 and be used for a range of productivity purposes. Apple is unlikely to use the term “metaverse” in its marketing materials, despite how convenient it may be for those who write about this space.
Mark Gurman of Bloomberg has revealed almost all the details about the device. The Reality Pro, according to Gurman, will include VR FaceTime, immersive video and an external display that can be connected to Mac computers. Gurman, however, reported in January that Apple had not yet developed a “killer application” for the headset — a compelling experience compelling enough to justify its high price tag , anddrive daily use.
The enthusiasm for certain digital experiences is waning
The usage statistics are more important than the sales figures. The Wall Street Journal revealed that six months after the purchase of Meta’s $400 Quest VR headsets, over half were no longer being used. This is a testament of how quickly novelty can fade. Or, perhaps how quickly the inconveniences of the device accumulate.
Mark Zuckerberg announced in a me interview that Facebook, then known as Facebook, would pivot to building the metaverse. It’s been two years now. The move came at the perfect time, a year and a quarter after the pandemic. Hundreds of millions of people were still staying home, away from work, and the announcement was made perfectly. The only thing that kept us connected to others was video chat and digital entertainment. It wasn’t a big leap to think that next-generation software and hardware would improve these experiences, and also command more time from us.
But a lot has changed. The enthusiasm for certain digital experiences has waned as the world slowly reopened. Zoom, which was a proxy for investor belief in the internet’s ability to increase productivity, peaked in October 2020 at $559 a share, and now trades at $66.73. Roblox has captured the attention of millions, while Epic Games’ Fortnite remains a 2D experience. Roblox stock has also fallen to less than one-third of its peak value.
Facebook, which was so determined to lead this hoped-for platform shift that it rebranded itself to Meta, today owns roughly 80 percent of the market with its Quest and Quest Pro headsets, , we convened into one of these VR conference rooms. I remember that experience for the difficulty of getting everyone’s setup to work.
The AI craze of the last six months has been a gift to us. It’s shown us what happens when people really become excited about something. ChatGPT has been a topic of conversation for me before I even knew that I was a tech journalist. Twelve percent of Americans had already used it at work, seven months after its launch. It’s funny that after spending billions on VR and crypto, a simple text box captured the attention of the world.
Apple is going to have a lot of work on its hands. Apple’s short-term goals are cautious. Gurman published a report last month that stated, “It originally hoped to sell around 3 million units per year, but has since reduced those estimates to approximately 1 million and then to 900,000.” The company sells 200 million iPhones per year.
The company’s devices only break through after many iterations.
This won’t happen anytime soon. The headsets are too big, the battery is too low, and the design seems to be too compromised for anyone but the most enthusiastic of early adopters. This, along with the lack a killer application, suggests that the Reality Pro would benefit Apple more by luring customers into Apple’s demo area in their retail stores, than as an iPhone-level business.
Meta will continue to push its advantage in the lower-end of the market. The company announced today that the Meta Quest 3 will be available this fall at a price of $500. It features a more powerful processor, redesigned display and slimmer design. also cut the price by $100 of its Quest 2 VR headset. Meta and Apple will have to figure out how to stop consumers from putting their devices in a drawer. (My humble request to either company is to make VR chat just as compelling as Google’s light-field display in Project Starline.
Apple’s success or failure won’t be judged on Monday. The day the Reality Pro is released will also not be the right time to judge whether Apple has succeeded or failed. Apple’s 1.0 releases, from the iPhone to Apple Watch, are often accompanied by obvious limitations. The company’s products can only be improved through constant iteration and the support of third-party developers. I bought my Apple Watch Series 5 – the first model with an always-on screen. I cannot imagine my life without the Apple Watch. Last year, the division generated $41 billion. The division got there.
It will be at least four years, if not more, before a company is able to overcome the technical and creative obstacles necessary to bring about a VR-centric platform. But as disappointing as some aspects of the metaverse have been, the incremental improvement from year to is evident for anyone who cares to look.
Apple is usually able to get the hardware right, no matter what obstacles it faces. On Monday, remember that the end of this story is still far away.