While Apple’s strategy of taking its time before entering a product category has served the company well in the past, its official entry into mixed reality comes at an interesting time. Virtual reality and augmented reality have been around in some form for decades, but they haven’t been able to achieve mass adoption until now.
VR headset shipments are set to drop by more than 20 percent in 2022, according to research from International Data Corporation. IDC attributed this to a limited number of vendors in the market, a challenging macroeconomic environment and a lack of mass market adoption by consumers.” Agreed The Wall Street Journal, citing Pitchbook, venture capital investment in VR startups is also down significantly from a few years ago. After $6.3 billion went into VR in 2019, last year’s investment totaled $4.8 billion. (It’s unclear exactly how much of that money is now going toward generative AI, the latest wave in the tech hype cycle.)
Meta has come closest to falling in the VR market. the reasonably priced Meta Quest and Quest 2 VR headsets have sold better than most, with 20 million units sold since the product’s launch. And the company just announced Meta Quest 3, a rush job before Apple’s big announcement. Meta headsets account for nearly 80 percent of the market, according to IDC.
Even still, Meta has struggled to sell its much more expensive model, the $1,000 Meta Quest Pro. And he has invested billions of dollars in his “metaverse” strategy to achieve this small success. The company said it expects its 2023 losses from Reality Labs, its VR arm, to widen significantly on a year-over-year basis.
But some remain optimistic about the potential for mixed reality to enter the mainstream, driven in part by Apple’s entry into the fray. After revising its outlook for VR-AR shipments due to weak demand in 2022, IDC said it still expects shipments to grow 14 percent in 2023 and continue to grow in the five years after that. Jitesh Ubrani, research manager who tracks mobile and consumer devices, said in an analyst note that “Sony’s new PSVR2 and Apple’s foray into the space will help drive additional volume, while new Meta and Pico devices expected are until 2023. 2024 will create huge momentum for VR.”
Peggy Johnson, CEO of AR company Magic Leap, told WIRED in an interview that Apple’s entry into the market is “absolutely a good thing” for the rest of the industry. “We’ve basically been on our own for over a decade, working on R&D and trying to get a real augmented reality system up and running,” Johnson said. “And there were years before technical expenses. So it’s great when we see somebody coming into this space because it helps the whole ecosystem. It’s a great validation.”
Some app developers are also excited about the prospects. “I think this could be the Tesla Roadster’s moment for mixed reality,” said Anand Agarwala, co-founder and CEO of AR/VR Spatial. “Apple is so good at making hardware, they’re so good at UX, in a way that other people who have entered the space haven’t been. So I think this could be a real ‘capture the imagination’ year.”
It may indeed be a “Tesla Roadster” moment, in the sense that when the electric car first became available, some wondered if it was an “expensive toy” or the start of a new era. At Apple’s best, both could be true.
This story has been updated with more details on Apple Vision Pro pricing and availability.