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As Apple’s Vision Pro headset rolls out, brands and game developers brace for impact

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As of today, Apple’s Vision Pro headset is officially available for purchase. There’s no doubt the tech is impressive — but the jury is still out on whether the flashy new device will truly help bring virtual (or mixed) reality into the mainstream.

Although virtual reality has been around for decades, consumers have not adopted the technology widely, despite the propagation of relatively cheap and accessible consumer devices such as Meta’s Quest 2 headset.

For years, VR evangelists have hailed the coming of Apple’s mixed reality headset as a watershed moment that will finally push a majority of American consumers to use VR, much as the release of the iPhone sparked a smartphone revolution in 2007. And yet not all observers are convinced that the Vision Pro is really mixed reality’s long-awaited messiah.

Here’s a breakdown of how the release of Apple’s Vision Pro headset might — or might not — upend the gaming and metaverse spaces.

The key numbers

  • As of January 2024, an estimated 53 million Americans own a virtual reality device, according to Security.org’s Virtual Reality Awareness and Adoption Report. That figure accounts for about 23 percent of U.S. consumers, but includes both dedicated VR headsets such as the Meta Quest and gaming VR devices like the Sony PlayStation VR and HTC Vive. There were 6 million monthly active Quest 2 users in October 2022, according to a Wall Street Journal report
  • Apple has reportedly pre-sold over 200,000 Vision Pro devices, accounting for roughly $700 million in revenues, based on the headset’s $3,500 price tag. Those are encouraging figures for Apple, but still far beneath the millions of preorders historically enjoyed by other Apple products such as the iPhone.
  • The Vision Pro has a $3,500 price tag for a reason. It’s filled to the brim with cutting-edge hardware, with a reported production cost of roughly $1,600 — over three times the cost to manufacture a Meta Quest headset

Not a gaming device

A key difference between the Vision Pro and its competitors is that Apple is not marketing the Vision Pro as a gaming device. For headsets such as the Quest 2, games represent the most accessible and arguably compelling reasons to put them on, with observers describing games such as “Beat Saber” as potential “killer apps” for VR. 

But while some major game developers will certainly develop titles for the Vision Pro, Apple recognizes that its $3,500 sticker price is simply too high for most gamers, and is focusing instead on the enterprise capabilities of the headset. Avoiding the gamer connection is one reason why Apple has not used the term “virtual reality” in its messaging around the Vision Pro, instead opting for terms such as “mixed reality” and “spatial computing.” At launch, the Vision Pro will not be geared toward gamers, and studios that develop titles for the device will be doing it more for the sake of art than to turn any kind of profit.

“If we sell the device as ‘VR,’ it’s this unique context that only gamers would be interested in,” said Steve Lee, co-CEO of the VR concert platform company AmazeVR. “So I think Apple wants you to focus on this as the ultimate entertainment device — you can work here, you can watch films, you can make the perfect 3D model.”

Best used for IRL activations, for now

For brands interested in getting in on the Vision Pro hype, it will likely be more effective to take advantage of the technology for in-person activations rather than attempting to reach users directly inside Apple’s virtual reality platform. The Vision Pro’s 200,000 pre-orders are a positive sign for Apple, but don’t represent a user base large enough to justify significant ad spend.

Using virtual reality for in-person activations is the approach taken by Puma, which partnered with Meta in January to develop a VR fitness experience titled “The World’s Smallest Gym.” The experience is currently based in Puma’s store in Berlin, but the brand has plans to send it on the road later this year.

“As a group, we’re trying to make Puma seem more and more innovative by testing out some of these projects,” said Puma head of emerging marketing tech and Web3 Ivan Dashkov. “Working with a leader in the space like Meta obviously gives us a lot of credibility.”

Don’t mind the hype

Early reviewers of the Vision Pro from Casey Newton to Brian Stelter have breathlessly praised the device, focusing in particular on its powerful eye-tracking capabilities and motion controls. In spite of these head-turning new tools, the Vision Pro still does not address the fundamental issues that have held many consumers back from using the technology more regularly. Wearing a heavy headset for hours is simply uncomfortable on the head and neck, and even the most powerful productivity tools don’t make it more enticing for people to plug into a headset before clocking into work.

The real test of the Vision Pro will not be whether journalists or tech YouTubers find the device titillating on first use — it will be whether users continue to put on the headset in the months and years to come. 

“I think journalists are generally guilty of hyping VR, and not really writing about their real experience — most people get nauseous using it,” said Mark Long, CEO of the first-person shooter game Shrapnel. “And certainly, Apple has fixed literally every problem that you could solve in a head-mounted device, at it cost them a fucking fortune, and they can barely make enough of them, because it’s such a complicated device to put together. But they’re rightly focusing on spatial computing, and not really VR.”

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