FILE – Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about the Apple Watch at the Apple event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco on Wednesday, September 9, 2015. When Apple unveils a highly-anticipated mixed-reality headset on Monday, it will be the company’s biggest new product since the Apple Watch launched almost a decade ago. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, file)
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE (AP Technology Writer)
CUPERTINO, Calif. (AP) — Apple on Monday unveiled a long-rumored headset that will move its users between the virtual and real worlds while testing the technology trendsetter’s ability to popularize newfangled devices after others haven’t managed to capture the public’s imagination.
After years of speculation, Apple CEO Tim Cook welcomed the arrival of the sleek glasses — dubbed “Vision Pro” — at the company’s annual developer conference, held at a park-like campus in Cupertino, California, and designed by Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs, who helped out the design. The device will be able to switch between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which projects digital images, while still allowing users to see objects in the real world.
“This marks the beginning of a journey that will bring a new dimension to powerful personal technology,” Cook told the crowd.
Although Apple executives gave a detailed preview of the headset’s capabilities in the last half-hour of Monday’s event, consumers will have to wait to get their hands on the device and be prepared to pay a hefty price tag to boot. Vision Pro will retail for $3,500 when it hits stores early next year.
“It’s an impressive piece of technology, but it was almost like a hoax,” said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen. “It looked like the beginning of a very long journey.”
Rather than positioning the glasses as just another vehicle for exploring virtual worlds or watching more immersive entertainment, Apple described the Vision Pro as the equivalent of owning an Ultra HD TV, a surround sound system, a high-end camera and state-of-the-art technology. The art camera bundled into a single hardware device.
“We believe it would be a stretch even for Apple to assume that consumers would pay a similar amount for an AR/VR headset as they would for a combination of these products,” DA Davison Tom Forte wrote in a research note Monday.
Despite that skepticism, the headset could become another milestone in Apple’s tradition of bringing groundbreaking technology to market, even if the company wasn’t always the first to attempt a given device.
Apple’s track record dates back to Jobs with a bow tie selling the first Mac in 1984 — a tradition that started with the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, the iPad in 2010, the Apple Watch in 2014, and the AirPods in continued in 2016.
The company stressed that over the years that it worked on the Vision Pro, it drew on its product design over the past few decades, which Apple says has more than 5,000 different patents.
The headset will come with 12 cameras, six microphones and various sensors that will allow users to control it and various apps using just their eyes and hand gestures. Apple said the experience won’t cause the recurring nausea and headaches that similar devices have experienced in the past. The company has also developed technology to create a three-dimensional digital version of each user, which is displayed during video conferences.
Although the Vision Pro doesn’t require physical controllers, which can be cumbersome to use, the glasses either need to be plugged into an outlet or connected to the headset via a portable battery – a factor that might make them less appealing to some users.
“They’ve worked hard to integrate this headset into the real world in the way current technology allows, but it’s still a headset,” said Insider Intelligence analyst Yory Wurmser, who nonetheless called the reveal a “pretty stunning presentation.” “ referred to.
Still, analysts don’t expect the Vision Pro to be an instant hit. This is mainly due to the high price, but also because most people still do not see a compelling reason to wear something around their face for a longer period of time.
If Vision Pro turns out to be a niche product, Apple would be in the same bind as other big tech companies and startups that have been trying to sell headsets or glasses loaded with technology that either puts people in artificial worlds or digital images on top of landscapes projected and things actually in front of them – a format known as “augmented reality”.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has dubbed these alternate three-dimensional realities the “Metaverse.” It’s a geeky concept that he tried to bring into the mainstream by changing the name of his social networking company to Meta Platforms in 2021 and then pouring billions of dollars into improving virtual technology.
But the Metaverse remains largely a digital ghost town, though Meta’s virtual reality headset, the Quest, remains the best-selling device in a category that so far has mostly appealed to video game players looking for even more immersive experiences. Cook and other Apple executives avoided referring to the metaverse in their presentations, instead referring to the Vision Pro as the company’s first leap into “spatial computing.”
The reactions to virtual, augmented and mixed reality have so far been extremely cautious. Some of the devices utilizing this technology have even been derided, with the most notable example being Google’s internet-connected glasses, which launched more than a decade ago.
Microsoft has also had limited success with HoloLens, a mixed reality headset released in 2016, although the software maker insisted earlier in the year that it remains committed to the technology.
Magic Leap, a startup that caused a stir with previews of a mixed-reality technology that could conjure up the spectacle of a whale crashing through a gym floor, struggled so much to market its first headset to consumers in 2018 that it has since shifted its focus to industrial, healthcare and emergency applications.
Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, estimates that Apple will sell just 150,000 headsets in its first year on the market before surging to 1 million headsets sold in its second year — a volume that will make the glasses a mere speck in the company’s portfolio would do.
By comparison, Apple sells more than 200 million of its top-of-the-line iPhones annually. But the iPhone wasn’t an instant sensation, selling fewer than 12 million units in its first full year on the market.