June 4 – Apple will announce its first virtual reality (VR) headset at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC 2023) on June 6 Beijing time, sending its competitors into a frenzy, according to several foreign media reports. This comes on the heels of Meta’s release of Meta Quest 3 on Thursday and Lenovo’s release of its latest ThinkReality VRX headset. Suddenly, a market struggling to appeal to a broad audience is gaining more attention.
Apple’s foray into virtual reality comes at a time when such hardware sales and general public interest in the VR dream are waning. Companies such as Meta, for example, have previously invested heavily in the idea. Apple has always distanced itself from the so-called metaverse, but interest in the company’s VR and augmented reality (AR) plans has always been strong. Now, instead of eclipsing its competitors’ offerings, Apple may be backing their ideas and bringing more applications to the technology.
This will prove that VR/AR really will be the next chapter in technology and become a major way we interact with and consume technology,” said George Jijiashvili, principal analyst at technology research and consulting firm Omdia. If Apple can really make these kinds of devices more attractive and have really useful apps and features, then it will be a product that everyone will want.”
But so far, the VR/AR industry is struggling. According to market intelligence firm IDC, the VR and AR headset market is down 54 percent from early 2022 to 2023 so far. More than half of those who bought Meta headsets reportedly stopped using the devices within six months of purchase.
However, the debut of Apple’s headset may actually help its rivals bounce back from their lows, said IDC research manager Jitesh Urbani, adding that the company’s announcement “has generated a lot of interest in the market. It helped wake up users, and that’s something Apple has done very well.
Apple has a reputation for bringing to market not-so-new hardware that eventually dominated the market. iPods became the most popular MP3 player and iPhones replaced Blackberries. Launching VR and AR headsets in niche markets was an even bigger gamble.
Apple has flirted with the idea that a major announcement will be made soon, that a “new era” will begin on Monday, and that the opportunity to “code a new world” may be on the horizon. Apple’s last major hardware release was the Apple Watch, which made the smartwatch mainstream and now dominates the market.
Many rumors suggest that Apple is working on a $3,000 headset with a high-end screen, eye- and hand-tracking capabilities and a separate battery pack.
Meta is upgrading its Quest headset to be thinner and have twice the processing power of its predecessor. It will be available this fall for $500. The company will also cut the entry price of its older Quest model by $100 to $300 by the end of this week. If the rumored pricing of Apple’s headset is true, it won’t be a competitor in the gaming space just yet, but is more likely to appeal to enterprise and developer customers. Lenovo’s headset sits in the middle of the pack with a starting price of about $1,300.
Other rival headsets vary in use and price. AR startup Magic Leap released its second headset last year, priced at about $3,300 and focused on enterprise customers. The company is reportedly in talks with Meta about partnering in the AR space. Sony launched the PSVR 2 this year, priced at $550.
One challenge with VR is attracting attention to it outside of the gaming space, and the high pricing of a non-essential device can turn many people off. But George Gigashvili, principal analyst at Omdia, said that as Apple’s name appears in the space, more app developers may begin to devote resources to help expand the headset’s uses. However, Apple must be able to design a headset that doesn’t bother users too much or make them feel uncomfortable.
Apple’s headset may not appeal to the average user unless its price drops significantly and it proves itself with a killer app that stands out in the meta-universe. But now is the time for people to turn their attention back to VR and see what uses it has beyond gaming.
The Meta headset’s lower price should keep it dominating the market for now, said Harmet Singh Walia, a senior analyst at technology research firm Counterpoint Research. Even if the Apple headset can impress, it remains out of reach and unlikely to cause an overnight sensation. Walia added: “I expect something special from the Apple headset, but it won’t be an iPhone moment.”