Another helmet for a virtual reality headset is not welcome. But something along the lines of ski goggles can be embraced. It’s going to be an important week for the tech industry as Apple is reportedly going to offer the first glimpses of its mixed-reality headset, which has been in the works for close to eight years. There have been occasions when the company came close to showing it, like at its 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference and then again in the following two years. June 5 could finally be the date when the mixed-reality headset will turn a few heads. The success of such a headset will eventually lie with what developers come up with. For the moment, let’s look at a few things about how a mixed reality headset can change the course for Apple, after the iPhone launched in 2007. There is plenty of competition but there are plenty of opportunities.
Don’t be stunned by the price tag
What the headset is expected to do is combine virtual reality, where you see only what’s in the headset, with augmented reality or technology in which digital objects appear in the real world. The market for such a product is at the moment limited because of a few reasons — cost, unwieldy hardware, few enterprise use cases and lack of enough software.
The elephant in the room is cost because the headset is expected to be priced around $3,000. It’s a lot of money for anyone to spend. On top of that add shipping and import costs for markets outside the US. Any new tech product doesn’t come cheap. One may argue that Meta’s products hit the correct price point but what Meta doesn’t have is enough reasons for consumers to buy its product at the moment.
Meta is shipping headsets across a wide range; at the low end, you can buy Quest 2 for around $400 or wait for Quest 3, which will come later this year for $500, or splurge on Quest Pro $1,000. Some HTC devices are priced around $1,000. In the case of the Magic Leap headset, it’s $3,299 and Microsoft HoloLens 2 is north of $3,000. If Apple can manage to keep it around $3,000 initially, it wouldn’t be absolutely out of reach. New technology costs more and the pricing curve begins to flatten once there is adoption.
Also, consider the technology that the headset is expected to come with — carbon fibre, glass, and an external display on the outside, speakers, microphones, an M2 chip and plenty more, like dual 4K display, probably 12 cameras outside to process AR…. It will be one of the most complex consumer technology that has been created in a long time.
Don’t compare it with the appeal of the iPhone
For Apple, it’s the first new product line in many years. The Apple Watch has won hearts and wrists. But it’s still the iPhone which is continuing to make waves because of its appeal. You need a phone and the iPhone can handle any app that’s out there.
The new headset will probably not be able to match the iPhone’s appeal at launch for consumers in general. It’s a new category that has to be nurtured and developed. But what it would open up is a new exciting market for Apple. It will start off slow and over five-seven years become successful. Once Apple is able to bring the price down, add cellular technology and figure out the battery situation, nothing would stop Apple.
More importantly, it needs to involve enterprise customers. Imagine people working in offices with this new device instead of laptops and desktops. That won’t be the case for many years. Meta has been trying to push Quest for years but there are not enough offices buying it. For Apple, it usually takes around a couple of years to add heavy enterprise integration. It will become an interesting product once pricing comes down to around $1,500 with plenty of apps to go around.
Don’t underestimate the Apple design
There is a reason why other headsets haven’t picked up steam — design. Nobody wants to wear a heavy helmet even while working. Also, who wants to charge another device? We already have to charge our phones, wireless earpods and smartwatches, so why add to the complication?
Add to this some warnings. For example, Meta Quest 2 is not recommended when one is tired/exhausted, needs sleep, is under the influence of alcohol, have digestive problems, is under stress and suffers from migraine or earaches. Apple will probably have the same warnings, which is perfectly fine.
The Apple device is expected to be thinner than any headset in the market, so that obviously brings up a question — what about people who wear glasses? There will probably be an option where you can snap-in prescription glasses for a few extra quids.
Don’t forget the vast Apple developer base
Success has escaped most companies with headsets already in the market because they don’t have a wide developer base. On the other hand, Apple already has the world’s strongest developer base with iOS, iPadOS and watchOS. The reason why WWDC has been chosen for the launch is because developers need to start working on apps. Add to this the immense potential of some of Apple TV+ original shows becoming relevant for the headset. If it is about turning complicated to cool, Apple can do it with what is being called xrOS, the platform.
Whatever headset buzz you hear through the course of the week will ultimately be in customers’ hands only after the launch of the iPhone 15 this summer. So, don’t expect to buy a headset before October/November. There will also be a big marketing campaign around it.Ultimately, when Apple comes up with a product, it seems so obvious as it should have been done earlier. We have seen that with the iPhone, the iPad and Watch. This can be the iPad for your face as Bloomberg points out. Plus, a headset needs privacy features and who better can deliver that than Apple.