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  • Writer's pictureScott Newell

Virtual Reality on the Horizon: Will Apple Bridge the Gap?

Apple is poised to unveil its highly anticipated augmented or mixed reality headset, possibly during the keynote of its annual WWDC developer conference in California this Monday. This announcement has been anticipated for years, and reports have indicated that the project faced delays, internal debates, technical challenges, and more. Beyond Apple's influence, the overall attitude towards AR and VR has shifted from optimism to skepticism. This trajectory is a natural progression in any major tech hype cycle, and it could be argued that the most significant impact is often made after the initial wave of excessive optimism and energy subsides. However, in the case of AR and VR, even tech giants with substantial resources have struggled to achieve significant breakthroughs. This is not due to a lack of effort but rather the inherent limitations at the cutting edge of available technology. Moreover, some of these limitations might stem from the human factors required to create the magical experience of mixed reality.

The proverbial elephant in the room is Meta, formerly known as Facebook. The name itself encapsulates the situation: Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, embraced the belief that VR was the inevitable future of human endeavors, akin to the missed opportunity of the mobile revolution but on a grander scale. Zuckerberg's enthusiasm led to the acquisition of Oculus, a popular crowdfunded VR company, and ultimately renaming the entire Facebook company as Meta, reflecting his vision of a shared virtual universe.

Meta has made considerable efforts over the past few years, with its recent releases including the Meta Quest 3 and the Meta Quest Pro. However, the response has been underwhelming, and the company has yet to establish a sustainable business on the scale of Facebook or the iPhone. While Meta managed to attract some VR-curious users, it falls short in proving that AR and VR can be the platform of the future.

When searching for a runner-up to bolster the case for AR/VR as the future platform, there are few strong contenders. HTC, after offloading its smartphone division to Google, focused primarily on VR but hasn't achieved household recognition. Sony's second-generation PSVR received mixed reviews compared to its predecessor. Steam also has a VR headset, but its impact has been relatively subdued.

However, this is Apple we are talking about. Known for refining existing technologies rather than inventing them, Apple has a track record of transforming MP3 players and smartphones into widely adopted and beloved devices. Unlike early MP3 players or smartphones, AR and VR headsets face different challenges. Despite substantial investment and advanced onboard technologies or comfort improvements, consumers often respond with a collective "neat, but no thanks."

Despite Apple's reputation and past successes, it is unlikely that their foray into AR and VR will be any different in terms of reception. These technologies face inherent accessibility challenges, with a significant portion of the population experiencing nausea regardless of the mitigation strategies implemented. Additionally, many people simply dislike the idea of wearing something on their face, making it difficult to overcome these objections, even with considerable value propositions. Existing attempts in the market, no matter how well-funded or diverse, have not been able to address these fundamental issues. The internet is replete with blog posts from authors who underestimated Apple and paid the price, dismissing the iPhone as a mere "toy" or predicting the failure of the Apple Watch. It would be unwise not to acknowledge the possibility that Apple, as it has done in other areas, might surprise everyone with a successful product that resonates with the mass market. However, AR and VR occupy a distinct realm within the technological landscape, and the Apple of today is substantially different from the company that introduced the iPhone or even the one that brought us the Apple Watch. There is undoubtedly a high level of anticipation surrounding Apple's upcoming launch, but it differs from the excitement generated by previous Apple releases. This time, the key question is "why," and for once, Apple cannot rely on past examples to provide clear answers.



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