Apple on Monday unveiled its long-awaited virtual reality headset, called “Vision Pro” — the technology giant’s first major product launch since releasing its AirPods earbuds in 2016.
The device, which is priced at a hefty $3,499, for now is aimed at developers of video games and other applications, rather than the general public. But Apple’s entry into the growing market for VR and the so-called augmented reality segment could galvanize consumer interest in what remains a fairly niche tech product. The headsets, which Apple is calling the world’s first spatial computers, will be available early next year on Apple.com and at retail stores across the U.S., Apple said.
“Just as the Mac introduced us to personal computing, and iPhone introduced us to mobile computing, Apple Vision Pro introduces us to spatial computing,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said Monday in presenting the VR device at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference.
The new headset has Apple playing catchup in the VR arms race, with rivals such as Google and Facebook owner Meta already having made forays into the growing space.
Still, making a late entry into a marketplace has worked for Apple with other products, such as with smartwatches, because it allows the tech giant to wait as other companies test new markets first, according to Wedbush Securities technology analyst Dan Ives.
“They’re not on the bleeding edge. They wait for other companies like Google and Meta, then they come in a few years later and create a market for the product, because people love Apple,” Ives told CBS MoneyWatch. “They don’t care if they’re first, second or third to market because they know they have an unparalleled ecosystem they can tap.”
First Apple product “you look through and not at”
Apple bills the new device, which it calls a “spatial computer,” as one that gives users a “magical” experience.
“This is a day that’s been years in the making,” Cook said. “Blending digital content with the real world” will create extraordinary experiences, he said, adding that the sleek goggles are Apple’s first product that “you look through and not at.”
Users of the device can access apps they’re used to seeing on their iPhone’s home screen overlaid on the physical environment in front of them. Users control Vision Pro with their eyes, hands and voice.
It’s powered by Apple’s proprietary M2 and R1 chips, which allow the device to remain silent and stream images without lag.
What else can it do?
Headset wearers can interact with apps they usually access through mobile devices, as well as watch TV and movies and keep in touch via Apple’s Facetime video-conferencing tool. They also can enter immersive environments of their choosing, play video games, and view and share photos, according to the company.
Will people buy it?
Earlier flops from other headset makers, such as Google Glass, could present a cautionary tale, but Apple has a built-in user base that other companies lack, experts say.
“It is easy to write off a VR headset, but people wrote off Apple Watch until Apple came out with it,” Ives said.
Ives said he thinks the product announcement will be a win for Cupertino, California-based Apple.
“It is going to further embed Apple within developer community, and I ultimately believe this is just one piece of a broader AI strategy that Tim Cook is rolling out over the next 12 to 18 months,” he said.
He expects Apple to sell roughly 150,000 headsets in 2024 and 1 million in their second year of sale at a lower price point.
Since 2016, the average annual shipments of virtual- and augmented-reality devices have averaged 8.6 million units, according to the research firm CCS Insight. The firm expects sales to remain sluggish this year, with a sales projection of about 11 million of the devices before gradually climbing to 67 million in 2026.
—The Associated Press contributed to this report