Dec 12, 2023

Apple Debuts the Vision Pro, Its VR Headset, at WWDC 2023


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The device, called Vision Pro and shaped like a pair of ski goggles, faces a skeptical consumer market and competition from others, like fellow tech giant Meta.

By Kellen Browning

Reporting from Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.

Apple lived up to months of expectations on Monday when it introduced new high-tech goggles that blend the real world with virtual reality. The $3,500 device, called the Vision Pro, will offer "augmented reality" and introduce "spatial computing," Apple said.

But conspicuously absent from the company's carefully choreographed announcement were the words "virtual reality," underscoring the challenges the tech giant is likely to face in marketing the device to a mass audience.

Interest in virtual reality picked up briefly after the idea of the metaverse — an immersive online world popularized by science fiction — was introduced to mainstream audiences during the pandemic. But the concept lost steam as people returned to their prepandemic lives, investors pivoted to artificial intelligence and it became clear how much technological innovation would be required to achieve such a futuristic vision.

Past virtual reality offerings, including Google Glass, Magic Leap, Microsoft's HoloLens and Meta's Quest Pro, have been either commercial failures or only modest successes. And companies have so far failed to demonstrate what is indispensable about virtual reality.

Analysts do not anticipate the Vision Pro, which will be available early next year, to have significant mainstream appeal — at least at first. The $3,500 price could dissuade many consumers.

Carolina Milanesi, a consumer tech analyst for the research firm Creative Strategies, said she did not think the headset "is going to be for mass-market consumers." Instead, she said, "it will be for early adopters — where Apple most often starts — and developers."

If the device lacks broad appeal, it could still be a useful trial run for Apple, which could eventually create a virtual reality product aimed at a wider group of consumers, like a lightweight pair of glasses.

"I don't think Apple has super-huge expectations," said Jeff Fieldhack, a research director at Counterpoint Research. "They know this is an evolution that's going to take some time."

Apple could also vault to the forefront of the XR market — a term for extended reality, similar to virtual reality, Mr. Fieldhack said.

"I’m sure it will be seen as the best, best in class," he said. "This is going to be extraordinary improvements in the display quality, resolution, refresh rates, probably the lightness, feel — all the things that are the hiccups of XR to date, a lot of them are going to be addressed."

The likely challenges that the Vision Pro will face on the market did not squelch the enthusiasm of thousands of attendees of Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference Monday. At the company's spaceship-shaped headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., they cheered and whooped as Apple executives discussed the device's features.

In a mostly prerecorded presentation that lasted more than two hours and touched on an array of other products, Apple repeatedly said using the new VR goggles felt like "magic."

"There are certain products that shift the way we look at technology and the role it plays in our lives," said Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive. "We believe Apple Vision Pro is a revolutionary product."

The headset, which looks like a pair of ski goggles, will have a three-dimensional interface in which users can view their surroundings and virtual reality at the same time, or toggle between the two to emphasize one mode or block it out entirely. It will feature the same kinds of applications, like FaceTime and Safari, as other Apple devices, with screens hovering in the air in front of users’ faces and growing larger or smaller at will. A wire attached to the headset plugs into a battery pack, providing two hours of battery life.

The company said people could unlock the device by scanning their eyes. Customers will use their eyes, voice and fingers to move displays and open apps, without any additional hardware. Apple said the Vision Pro would be a useful tool for work and entertainment, with a powerful sound and visual system akin to a personalized movie theater.

Some have speculated that the Vision Pro could build off Apple's growing content portfolio and feature exclusive content, like movies, games or television shows. In a brief appearance, Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of Disney, did not promise anything other than making Disney+ available on the Vision Pro when it launches.

Apple also announced a series of other updates and new products, like a 15-inch MacBook Air laptop and improved computer chips for its desktop computers. The company introduced updated operating systems for its computers, AirPods, watches and iPhones, with features like a Journal app, FaceTime video messages and a standby mode with a larger clock on a phone's home screen.

Largely absent from the event were mentions of artificial intelligence. Apple debuted improvements to its Siri voice command system — like the ability for it to recognize family pets in clusters of photos — as well as a better autocorrect texting function and live transcriptions of voice mail.

But unlike other big tech companies, Apple avoided an in-depth discussion of what A.I. will mean to the company.

Kellen Browning is a technology reporter in San Francisco, where he covers the gig economy, the video game industry and general tech news. @kellen_browning