Making VR headsets great won't be easy even for Apple
After years of anticipation, Apple's first major new product in nearly a decade has arrived. The $3,500 Vision Pro, a face computer that resembles ski goggles, will be released next week.
So, what can we expect?
The device, which features a high-resolution display and sensors that track eye movements and hand gestures, is one of Apple's most ambitious products. It presents the headset as ushering in the era of “spatial computing”, blending data with the physical world to improve our lives. For example, imagine giving a presentation with digital notes shown in the corner of your eye.
I was one of the first group of journalists to try the Vision Pro last year and came away impressed with the picture quality, but ultimately I wasn't sure people would want to wear it. My skepticism was inspired by my experience wearing more than a dozen headsets from companies like Google, Meta, Snap, Samsung, and Sony over the past 12 years, including virtual reality glasses plugged into bulky desktop computers and smart glasses that took pictures. Were. The devices were intended to provide an immersive experience of getting work done by moving the body rather than typing on a keyboard.
Broadly speaking, the problem with headsets has less to do with technology and more to do with behavior: People quickly tire of wearing a computer on their face, Tools get locked away in closets, and software developers lose interest in creating apps. Sales of mixed reality and virtual reality headsets fell 8.3 percent Last year, according to research firm IDC, although they may make a comeback this year with Apple's entry into the market.
Even though Apple is known for being late to the party with better products, as it was with music players and smartphones, the Vision Pro is not guaranteed to be a successful hit, especially with its tempting price.
“Is this Apple entering the market late but coming with the best product and therefore will be successful?” asked technology analyst and former Apple marketing director Michael Gartenberg. “Or is there no existing market because there are no $3,500 headsets for the mass market?”
To better understand how the Apple Face Computer might (or might not) fit into our lives in the future, it's worth taking a look at several of the face computers I've been wearing in the moment that set the scene for the Vision Pro. .
In 2012, Google unveiled a mixed-reality headset, google glass, It was essentially a headband with a camera and a monocle, positioned over your right eye, with a transparent display showing calendar and map software. To demonstrate its exciting potential, Google created a video of people wearing Face Computer jump out of plane,
When I tried an early prototype of Google Glass that year, the only working feature was a Maps app that showed directions when walking down a path. In theory, this could be useful for keeping my eyes on the road while driving or bicycling, but it would come at a steep price: I looked like a “Star Trek” character.
Of course, after Google Glass launched publicly, there was an uproar. was a blogger in san francisco Was attacked for wearing this, Memes emerged, including the word “Glasshole” To anyone who could potentially record video of people without their permission. Google eventually marketed the Monocle as a business device, but ultimately killed the product in 2023.
After the Google Glass flop, the tech industry regrouped and attempted to address design and privacy issues. In 2016 and 2021, Snap and Meta released stylish glasses with cameras and small lights that indicated when the user was recording. Both products were unpopular. I recently tested the second generation Meta glasses and concluded that although they looked satisfyingly attractive, privacy concerns remained because no one noticed when I was taking pictures of them.
smartphone-driven virtual reality
The tech industry was also eager to sell people a different type of headset for virtual reality. The headsets, which looked like plastic goggles, blocked your view of the outside world so you could immerse yourself in a 3-D digital environment and experience something as if you were actually there – the Grand Canyon. By turning your head this way and that to see. Example.
To make virtual reality headsets an easier sell, tech companies like Google and Samsung tried to rely on smartphones for their screens and computing power. In 2015, Samsung collaborated with virtual reality company Oculus to design the Gear VR, a headset into which a user can insert a smartphone to view virtual reality content. In 2016, Google released a similar product, Daydream VR, for Android phones.
While the products lowered the cost for people to try VR, I encountered problems with them. Smartphones running VR software got too hot, their batteries drained faster and applications became gimmicky – one simulation I tried involved staring at a virtual dinosaur. Google discontinued Daydream VR in 2019 and Samsung announced the end of its VR content services in 2020.
In 2016, Oculus, which Meta had acquired for $2 billion two years earlier, released the Oculus Rift, a high-end VR system that plugs into a powerful desktop computer. The entire bundle, which included a headset, a game controller, and a computer, was priced at $1,500. With 30 games at launch, the product was marketed as a next-generation gaming device.
Virtual reality games were designed to make you feel as if you were inside the game. Shooting games may involve searching for guns and bending and using motion controls to pick them up and fire at opponents.
Other similar products followed, including Sony's $400 PlayStation VR, a headset that plugged into a PlayStation console. For years, the PlayStation headset dominated the high-powered virtual reality arena because it reduced costs by eliminating the need to purchase a separate computer. The second generation PlayStation headset arrived last year.
However, recently a Sony executive Virtual reality called a “challenging category” Because VR hasn't changed much for the game industry. Most people still like to play video games on television.
In my experience testing all of these products over the years, they all had the same flaws: headsets felt bulky, hardware and wires created clutter in the living room, and there weren't many engaging games to play.
Stand-alone headsets and mixed reality
Stand-alone headsets, which combine computer, display, and sensor technologies into one product, have become the most convenient VR products to date. Since 2019, Meta's Quest headsets, which range in price from $250 to $1,000, have used this approach, but the products are still not a mainstream hit.
Last year, Meta released the $500 Quest 3, its first consumer headset focused on mixed reality, which uses cameras to look into the real world while using the headset. For example, while firing a gun inside a shooting game, you can hide behind the sofa in your living room. In my tests, I concluded that while the graphics were significantly improved, the headset felt too heavy on my neck after about 15 minutes. I also wasn't impressed by the games and the device's short two-hour battery life.
That brings us all to the product in question: the Vision Pro, which Apple is marketing as a productivity tool to replace your laptop with a virtual screen and digital keyboard, 3-D movie player and gaming device.
At 21 ounces, the Vision Pro is about as heavy as Meta's products, and my eyes and neck felt tired after wearing it for half an hour.
The Apple headset's battery, a separate brick that connects to the glasses via wire, offers a life of two hours like the Meta's – not enough to power most feature-length movies, let alone a lot of work. Just leave it.
As far as games go, no major game studios have yet announced any games built specifically for the Vision Pro. However, the headset does include an app for viewing 3-D dinosaurs.