Rumors that Apple would announce a virtual-reality headset at its Worldwide Developers Conference, which takes place on Monday, have sent competitors into a frenzy. Meta announced its new MetaQuest 3 on Friday. Lenovo released its latest ThinkRealityVRX headset. A niche market that had been struggling to attract a large audience suddenly has more eyes on them.
Apple's anticipated entry into the VR world will come at a time of waning hardware sales and interest in the metaverse. Meta, for example, has invested heavily in this idea even though the public is losing interest. Apple has not been involved in the metaverse but has long been interested in the company's VR/AR plans. Apple may not be able to surpass competitors, but it can support its ideas and encourage more development and uses of the technology.
George Jijiashvili is a principal analyst at Omdia. A tech research and advisory company. "If they can make that headset really compelling, with useful apps and features, it will be a product everyone looks up to."
But the sector is currently struggling. According to data from International Data Corporation (a market intelligence company), the VR and AR headsets market has seen a 54 percent drop from early 2022 until 2023. More than half of those who purchased Meta headsets stopped using them after six months. Apple's debut may actually help its competitors recover from these lows. Jitesh Urbani is a research manager for IDC. He says that Apple's announcement "brings attention to the market".It helps educate users. Apple is great at this.
Apple is known for bringing to market hardware that may not be novel, but which ultimately dominates. The iPod was the most popular MP3 player, and the iPhone slayed the BlackBerry. A VR and AR headset would be a riskier venture in a niche market. Apple teased a major announcement, saying that "a new era will begin Monday" and that "code new universes" may be on the way. Apple's last major announcement was the Apple Watch which revolutionized smartwatches and is now the market leader.
Apple is rumored to be working on a $3,000 head-mounted display with high-end screens and eye- and hands-tracking. It will also have a separate battery. Meta is updating Quest so that it's thinner and has twice the processing power as its predecessor. It will be available for $500 this fall. This weekend, the company will also reduce the entry price of its older Quest model by $100 to $300.Apple's rumored pricing will not compete in the gaming market for now, but it is likely to attract enterprise and developer customers. Lenovo's headset is priced in the middle at around $1,300.
Other competitors differ in purpose and cost. Magic Leap, an AR startup, released a second headset last year for $3,300, focusing on enterprise customers. Meta is said to be in talks with the company about an augmented-reality deal. Sony's PSVR 2 was launched at $550 this year.
The challenge with VR is getting people to care about it outside of gaming. People are put off by the high price of a device that is not essential. Jijiashvili believes that with Apple in the picture, more app developers will invest resources to expand the use of headsets. But the company also needs to design a headset that is not too intrusive and uncomfortable for its user.
Apple headsets may not be popular with the masses until they are cheaper and have killer apps that stand out in the virtual world. This is the time to look at VR again and see what other uses it may have outside of gaming. Harmeet Walia, senior analyst at Counterpoint Research and a technology research company, says that Meta's lower prices should allow it to maintain its market dominance. Even if Apple's headset impresses, it is too far away to become a sensation overnight."I'm expecting a special moment, but it won't be an iPhone moment," says he.
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