Status of the AR/VR Experience: How Apple and Lenovo are trying to Make the Most of a VR Headsets Millennials? The Case of Magic Leap
The Meta Quest 2 became available in the fall of 2020. It has been received well in the VR headset market, especially as a stand-alone headset with a high-resolution display and what’s known as inside-out tracking. The Quest 2’s price will go down to $300 on June 4, and the older headset will get a small performance bump along with the price drop.
Anticipation for Apple’s new product is so heightened that other companies are scrambling to position their wares ahead of next week. Earlier this week, PC maker Lenovo said its enterprise-focused ThinkReality VRX headset is now shipping, at $1,299. Magic Leap, which has been working on augmented reality technology since 2010 and holds thousands of patents around optical technology and AR/VR manufacturing processes, has been meeting with press to demonstrate its Magic Leap 2 headset. The headset is thinner and lighter than the Magic Leap One, which is aimed at enterprise customers.
All of which is to say: Apple has its work cut out for it here. The company is careful about their near-term ambitions. Gurman reported last month that the company initially hoped to sell 3 million units a year out of the gate, but it has slashed that to 1 million. “By comparison, the company sells more than 200 million iPhones a year.”) Eventually, though, the company envisions a world where knowledge workers wear headsets like this all day.
That isn’t going to happen soon. The design and appearance of the headsets make them seem too bulky and short on battery life, while the reported design makes them seem too compromises to attract the most enthusiastic early Adopters. That, coupled with the lack of a killer app, suggest the Reality Pro will benefit Apple more as a reason to lure customers into the demo area at the company’s retail stores than as a business on the level of the iPhone.
The launch of the $1,500 Meta Quest Pro last year was intended to expand the market for headsets beyond the gaming uses that make up most of the time people spend with them. There has been a lackluster response to features like virtual desktops and virtual conference rooms. (On an early episode of Hard Fork, we convened in one of those VR conference rooms; I remember the experience primarily for how difficult it was to get everyone’s setup working.)
It has now been almost two years since Mark Zuckerberg, in an interview with me, announced that the company then called Facebook would pivot into building the metaverse. A year and a half into the pandemic, with hundreds of millions of people still keeping close to home and away from the office, the move was perfectly timed. Video chat and digital entertainment were the only ways to connect with other people. It was not much of a stretch to assume that eventually, next-generation hardware and software would both radically improve those experiences and command more of our time as they did so.
A lot has changed since 2021, though. The rebirth of the world has waned enthusiasm for some kinds of digital experiences. Zoom, which served as a kind of proxy for investors’ belief in internet-enabled productivity, peaked at $559 per share in October 2020 — and today trades at $67.83. There are vast, interdependent worlds that have captured the attention of Roblox and Fortnite, but don’t come with 2D experiences. (Roblox stock is also now worth less than a third of its peak price.)
One of the great gifts of the past six months is that it has shown us what an exciting time it is when consumers are excited about something. ChatGPT is a product people bring up to me in everyday life before they even find out I’m a tech reporter; roughly seven months after launch, 12 percent of Americans have already used it for work. There’s something deeply funny about the fact that, after billions of dollars spent hyping up VR and crypto, the product that actually captivated the world’s attention again was a text box.
All that said: Monday won’t be the right time to judge whether Apple has succeeded or failed. It won’t be the day that the Reality Pro goes on sale. From the iPhone to the Apple Watch, the company’s 1.0 launches often arrive with obvious limitations. Only through continuous iteration and support from third party developers will the company’s devices break through. I waited to buy an Apple Watch until the Series 5, the first model that had an always-on display. I can never imagine not having the device on my wrist. Last year the division made a huge amount of money. It made it to there.
Whatever hurdles it has to overcome, Apple usually gets hardware right in the end. The thing to keep in mind on Monday is that, in this case, the end is still a long time away.