Will Apple's XR Headset Help us 'Think Different' About the Metaverse?
Some thoughts on VR, AR, and the metaverse ahead of next week's WWDC
[NOTE: Join Jessica Brillhart and me for live takes on Twitter Spaces during & after the WWDC keynote, kicking off at 10 am PST June 5. We’ll be talking shop, sharing takes, and hanging out with old and new friends.]
Though it’s still not official, all signs point to the fact that—after years of development, leaks, and no shortage of internal drama—Apple is at last (allegedly!) wading into the XR headset waters, based on heavy speculation that they will make an official announcement during next week’s WWDC conference (this year’s tagline is “Code new worlds” and includes an augmented reality easter egg).
The alleged details: it will be a device called Apple Reality Pro, rely on an external battery pack, and cost ~$3,000. It will be a “mixed reality” headset with both virtual reality and augmented reality capabilities (the latter through what’s called “pass-through” AR, which involves representing the physical world in the headset using cameras/sensors on the device).
I’ve been participating and working in the XR industry in various capacities for nearly a decade, and Apple’s entry into the arena has long been heralded as the moment that VR and AR will truly go mainstream, reprising the company’s glorious “iPhone moment.”
Candidly, I’m excited to see what they have on offer, but I see this as mostly a symbolic entrance—especially if we’re to believe a recent report that expected production for 2023 is only 100,000 headsets. This is not the moment for mainstream XR adoption; this is the moment for Apple to get developers excited to build apps and content for this headset—and that’s a perfectly reasonable strategy.
I’ve been predicting for a while that headsets won’t follow a mobile device growth curve for the simple reason that they don’t solve immediate problems the way that mobile phones with Internet capabilities did, and to boot involve a whole lot more friction (they decidedly do not fit in your pocket). They open up new ways to work, play, and interact that will be appealing in the long term, but I see this as a long, more linear growth process. And out-of-the-gate, Apple’s really only trying to get in front of power users and tech adopters with excess capital, already quite niche. One of Apple’s longstanding superpowers as a company has been its ability to present a vision for the future of creativity to creative professionals through computing. If they play their XR cards right, I think this is something that is wide open for them to repeat—especially after Meta’s attempts have fallen flat over the past couple years.
What I think is most at stake for Apple next Monday is actually conceptual.