Apple’s entry into VR is a ‘watershed moment’, say top industry executives

  • Apple unveiled its Vision Pro headset at its annual WWDC event on Monday, ending months of speculation that the Cupertino tech giant was preparing to launch its own virtual reality product.
  • Cher Wang, CEO of HTC, told CNBC that she sees Apple’s move as validation for the industry, a “watershed moment” and a “big validation of everything” for the Taiwanese tech giant.
  • The launch is surprising for a company like Apple, which waits for a product to gain mass adoption before entering a product category.

Apple unveiled its Vision Pro headset at its annual WWDC event on Monday, ending months of speculation that the Cupertino tech giant was preparing to launch its own VR, or augmented reality, product.

Josh Edelson | AFP | Good pictures

Apple’s mixed-reality headset debut marks a “watershed moment” for the industry, executives from some of the major players in the augmented and virtual reality space said as they welcomed competition for the US tech giant.

Apple unveiled its Vision Pro headset at its annual WWDC event on Monday, ending months of speculation that the Cupertino tech giant was preparing to launch its own VR, or augmented reality, product.

Cher Wang, CEO of Taiwanese tech giant HTC, told CNBC that she sees Apple’s move as validation for the industry. HTC has long been a staple of the virtual and augmented reality industry, pivoting from its ailing smartphone business years ago to focus on its Vive headset division.

“Apple’s entry into the market is an important moment for the industry, and the HTC VIVE is a huge validation of everything we’ve been working on,” he told CNBC. “This will bring even more confidence to the global market for VR.”

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However, he said the “closed” nature of Apple’s services ecosystem — which is highly restrictive when it comes to the platforms and devices users access its services — is problematic.

“Apple has historically used a closed ecosystem for its iOS products and content delivery platforms, which can limit developers in a new value chain. If developers are locked into an ecosystem, it’s difficult for them to increase their reach.”

Apple says Vision Pro will let users see apps in a new way around them. Users can use their eyes and hands to navigate through apps and search with their voice.

With the headset, users can watch movies, including 3D with spatial audio, watch their own pictures or videos, and play video games. It can also be used to work with video conferencing applications such as Microsoft Office tools and Adobe Lightroom.

Vision Pro will run on visionOS, a new spatial computing platform designed for the company’s new headset that enables developers to build apps for iOS on the iPhone. It will be available early next year starting at $3,499.

The crowd’s reaction to Apple’s AR headset was more muted than the response to the company’s other announcements earlier in the day, including new features for the iPad and Apple TV Siri remote.

“The next paradigm shift will occur when these devices are fully integrated with 5G technology and streaming content from the cloud edge network,” Wang told CNBC.

“HTC VIVE has already pioneered this technology, and we will continue to advance this paradigm shift in the future.”

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HTC has been focusing heavily on VR for years, having specialized in smartphones as it struggled to gain traction in the highly competitive handset market.

In 2018, the Taiwanese company sold most of its smartphone business to Google for $1.1 billion.

VR has long struggled to be taken seriously by the industry, with consumers mainly seeing it as a way to play casual games rather than a device embedded in their daily lives.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has staked its entire future on getting people involved in virtual worlds through VR products like its Meta Quest line of headsets and the social game Horizon Worlds VR. The Metaverse.”

But Meta has yet to find broad commercial appeal for its product — losing billions of dollars on its investment in the technology each year.

Sales of VR headsets haven’t fared well lately, especially as consumers struggle with a sharp rise in the cost of living.

Research group NPD Group told CNBC last December that sales of VR headsets in the U.S. will decline 2% to $1.1 billion in 2022.

It’s a surprising release for a company like Apple, which waits for a product to gain mass adoption before entering a product category.

However, industry executives said the launch marked a significant milestone for the nascent mixed reality market.

This indicates how many potential use cases mixed reality could have in business-facing matters, Urho Kontori, chief technology officer at Finnish Verjo, commented via email.

“Apple’s entry into the XR with Vision Pro is an important moment for our entire industry,” said Kontori.

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“Mixed reality is already a fixture in the enterprise sector, and the innovative technologies pioneered by Varjo have transformed the way the world’s largest companies work, train, design, conduct research and collaborate.”

“With promising applications for entertainment, personal productivity and communication, we believe today will be a turning point for consumers as it begins to become part of their daily lives,” he added.

CCS Insight analyst Leo Kebi said, “Even if it doesn’t launch until early 2024, we expect Vision Pro to change the spatial computing segment thanks to some of Apple’s design decisions and its innovative VisionOS.”

“Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) have come under intense scrutiny and skepticism in recent times, but if one company has the star power to revive the segment, it’s Apple,” he added.

— CNBC’s Giff Lesswing, Ashley Kabut and Rohan Goswami contributed to this report.

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