Apple has reportedly been working on a mixed reality headset for years, and the company is expected to officially unveil it in June before taking orders for the $3,000 headset later this year. That will make it one of the most expensive virtual or augmented reality devices around, but it’s also expected to be one of the most powerful and versatile.
So what exactly are you supposed to do with it? All sorts of things. According to a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple isn’t really sure what the killer app for the headset. So the company is working to ensure it can run hundreds of thousands of apps at launch. Over time if some use cases turn out to be more popular than others, Apple could end up emphasizes those by adding (or removing) features.
Existing VR headsets are largely used for gaming and immersive video or interactive features. Apple’s headset, expected to be called Reality Pro, will support all of those features. But Gurman says that the headset will also support:
- Most of Apple’s existing iPad apps including FaceTime, Safari, Maps, Notes, Photos, and TV
- Hundreds of thousand of third-party iPad apps “with either no extra work or minimal modifications”
- A new Wellness app for meditation and other mindfulness activities
- Fitness+ experience for virtual reality (this may not be available at launch)
- A new apps for watching sports matches in VR
- Videoconferencing with “realistic avatars”
- Virtual whiteboards via Apples Freeform app
Gurman says the headset can also be used as an eternal display for a Mac, allowing you to interact with Mac apps on a virtual big-screen display. Or you can use it to watch movies, TV shows, and other videos in virtual environments.
A lot of these possible uses sound a lot like things that Facebook’s parent company Meta offers or has promised for its Meta Quest line of VR headsets… although the company’s avatars for virtual meetings have been widely panned for not being particularly “realistic.”
Apple does have a history of releasing products without knowing exactly what people are going to use them for. Many of the features that debuted with the original Apple Watch in 2014 are no longer available, as Apple zeroed in on the things people used most including fitness tracking, notifications, communications, and navigation.
So it’s theoretically possible that the scattershot approach Apple is taking to apps and features for the Reality Pro headset will help the company figure out which features to focus on moving forward.
But it’s also possible that this could be one of the company’s rare flops. The afore mentioned Meta Quest line of products are probably some of the most popular heads-up displays around, but they represent a tiny portion of Meta’s business, despite CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to bet so big on the “metaverse” that he changed the company’s name to Meta.
And honestly, VR headsets have a higher barrier to usage than most Apple products. Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches are all personal gadgets that can easily fit into a user’s day-to-day activities. And Apple TV is a product that offers a shared experience during down-time alone or with your family or friends.
A VR headset, by definition, is something that you put on when you’re alone. And while some folks might want to use that immersive environment to play games or watch videos, it’s not something you’re likely to do while sitting on the couch with your family. The social elements could be a selling point for staying in touch with people remotely, but we’re living in an age where text messaging has largely supplanted phone calls. Do people really want to arrange meeting where they put on a headset and schedule VR calls?
And if Reality Pro does overcome those hurdles, it has a few more to jump over: price and battery life. The $3,000 price tag will make the first iteration a device that only developers and early adopters with cash to burn can love. And they’ll only be able to love it for around 2 hours at a time unless they pick up spare battery packs.
That’s because Gurman notes that the headset doesn’t even have a built-in battery. Instead it’s designed to plug into a battery pack that you can slip into your pocket (assuming you’ve got clothing with pockets). And that battery might not last long enough to get you through a feature-length movie.
There are a few upsides to an external battery pack. It could make the headset itself lighter and more comfortable to wear for an extended period. And it could make it easy to swap out batteries on the fly if you have spares.
But it also means that you’ll have a wire running from the headset to your waist while using the headset. And the standard battery still won’t provide the kind of run time you’d want from most other types of computing devices (although I suppose we could see high-capacity battery packs in the future).
All of which is to say that betting against a new Apple product’s success is never wise. But looking at the current landscape for VR and AR products, it’s hard not to wonder if the Reality Pro headset will be part of another fad that fizzles out like 3D TV or if it’ll truly help create a new category of personal computing device the way that smartphones, tablets, and even smartwatches have.
I do believe that they are going to do augmented reality better than anyone. But I’m still not interested in paying anywhere near $3000.
I like that Apple isn’t like Samsung, who pushes experimental hardware on its customers for years until they finally get it right. There is something to be said about doing research for years before releasing something. I just don’t want to pay the bill for all that research in my very first purchase.
I will pay $3000 for superior swimming goggles!