FILE – Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about the Apple Watch at the Apple event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, Wednesday, September 9, 2015. When Apple unveils a highly anticipated mixed reality technology headset on Monday, then it will be the company’s biggest new product since the launch of the Apple Watch almost a decade ago. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, file)
Apple appears poised to unveil a long-rumoured headset that will transport its users between the virtual and real worlds, while testing the tech trendsetter’s ability to popularize newfangled devices after others have failed capture the public’s imagination.
After years of speculation, the stage is set for the much-anticipated announcement, scheduled to be made Monday at Apple’s annual developer conference at a theater in Cupertino, California, named after the company’s late co-founder Steve Jobs. Apple will also likely use the event to unveil its latest Mac computer, preview the next operating system for the iPhone, and discuss its artificial intelligence strategy.
But the star of the show is expected to be a pair of glasses – perhaps dubbed “Reality Pro” according to media leaks – which could become another milestone in Apple’s tradition of bringing groundbreaking technology to market, even if the company hasn’t always been the first who tried his hand at making a particular device.
Apple’s track record dates back to Jobs with a bow tie selling the first Mac in 1984 — a tradition that started with the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, the iPad in 2010, the Apple Watch in 2014, and the AirPods in continued in 2016.
However, given that Apple’s new headset is priced at around $3,000, it’s likely to have a moderate response from even the most affluent techies.
If the new device turns out to be niche, Apple would be in the same bind as other big tech companies and startups that have been trying to sell headsets or glasses loaded with technology that either puts humans in artificial worlds or digital images with Projecting landscapes and things that are actually in front of them – a format known as “augmented reality”.
Apple’s glasses are expected to be elegantly designed and able to toggle between fully virtual and augmented options, a hybrid sometimes referred to as “mixed reality.” This flexibility is sometimes referred to as external reality, or XR for short.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has dubbed these alternate three-dimensional realities the “Metaverse.” It’s a geeky concept that he tried to bring into the mainstream by changing the name of his social networking company to Meta Platforms in 2021 and then pouring billions of dollars into improving virtual technology.
But the Metaverse remains largely a digital ghost town, though Meta’s virtual reality headset, the Quest, remains the best-selling device in a category that so far has mostly appealed to video game players looking for even more immersive experiences.
Given the skepticism about the term that quickly arose, Apple executives seem likely to avoid referring to the metaverse when discussing the potential of the company’s new headset.
For the past several years, Apple CEO Tim Cook has consistently touted augmented reality as the next quantum leap in technology, but hasn’t put a concrete timeline on when it will gain mass appeal.
“If you look back at a point in time, look to the future, and look back, you’re going to wonder how you lived your life without augmented reality,” Cook, who is 62, said last September while speaking to an audience by students in Italy. “Just like today, you wonder how people like me grew up without the internet. You know, so I think it could be that profound. And it won’t be profound overnight.”
The reactions to virtual, augmented and mixed reality have so far been extremely cautious. Some of the devices utilizing this technology have even been derided, with the most notable example being Google’s internet-connected glasses, which launched more than a decade ago.
After Google co-founder Sergey Brin first sparked enthusiasm for the device by demonstrating an early model’s potential “wow factor” with a skydiving stunt during a technology conference in San Francisco, consumers were quickly put off by a product that it allowed its users to secretly take photos and videos. The backlash became so fierce that the wearers of this gear became known as “Glassholes,” leading to Google’s withdrawal of the product a few years after its debut.
Microsoft has also had limited success with HoloLens, a mixed reality headset released in 2016, although the software maker insisted earlier in the year that it remains committed to the technology.
Magic Leap, a startup that caused a stir with previews of a mixed-reality technology featuring the spectacle of a whale crashing through a gym floor, struggled so much to market its first headset to consumers in 2018 that it has since shifted its focus to industrial, healthcare and emergency applications.
Magic Leap Chief Transformation Officer Daniel Diez said there are four key questions Apple’s glasses need to answer: “What can people do with them?” What does this thing look like and how does it feel? Is it comfortable to wear? And how much will it cost?”
The expectation that Apple’s eyewear will sell for several thousand dollars has already dampened expectations for the product. Though he thinks the Apple glasses will feature “gorgeous” technology, Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives thinks the company will sell just 150,000 units in its first year on the market — a small blip in the company’s portfolio . In comparison, Apple sells more than 200 million iPhones, its flagship product, every year. But the iPhone wasn’t an instant sensation, selling fewer than 12 million units in its first full year on the market.
Apparently aiming to inflate the expected price of Apple’s glasses, Zuckerberg specifically stated last week that the next Quest headset will sell for $500. This announcement comes four months before Meta Platform plans to showcase the latest device at its technology conference.
According to research firm CCS Insight, annual shipments of virtual and augmented reality devices have averaged 8.6 million units since 2016. The company expects sales to remain sluggish this year, with sales forecast at around 11 million of the devices before gradually increasing to 67 million in 2026.
But those projections were obviously made before it’s known if Apple might be launching a landscape-changing product.
“I would never disregard Apple, especially in the consumer market and especially when it comes to finding these killer apps and solutions,” said Diez of Magic Leap. “If someone cracked the consumer market early, I wouldn’t be surprised it would be Apple.”