An Apple headset is a virtual certainty at this point
Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is due to kick-off on Monday and the annual event is a major showcase for new products. Typically a hush-hush affair, a cottage industry has built up around it, with journalists and other prognosticators attempting to beat Apple to the punch on its announcements.
Much as I dislike reading the tea leaves, this year’s event appears to have been leakier than a sieve. New operating system updates, for both the Mac and consumer devices, are likely to be demoed, but despite being called the developer conference WWDC is not just about software (though surely some mention of artificial intelligence is now mandatory). In fact, hardware is likely to be the star of the show.
Among the devices expected to be revealed are new desktop Macs, including a high-end Mac Studio. The rumour mill has been grinding away about something else, though: Apple is expected to unveil a brand new product category for the company: ‘mixed reality’ (MR) headsets.
A combination of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), mixed reality blends physical and digital worlds, and Apple’s headset, apparently to be called Reality Pro, will undoubtedly up the ante in this thus-far disappointing sector.
Such is the level of expectation that Meta appears to have pushed out its budget-priced Meta Quest 3 VR headset early. It’s clear why, too. Apple is not only a direct competitor to Meta in the advertising world (Apple’s tightening of privacy rules had hurt Meta’s bottom line), it is also a company with an impeccable hardware strategy.
Regular readers will know that I have looked at VR with some scepticsm. It’s not that I think the technology is dead on arrival so much as it has yet to find a ‘killer app’. Still, the entry of a juggernaut like Apple is interesting precisely because it has successfully created new categories of device and, frankly, because its hardware retains a significant cachet.
There are a couple of snags, though: Apple is known for its stylish devices, this is true, but headsets are still a hard sell for uses other than gaming or industrial simulation. Most of us just don’t want to wear them, certainly not while we are out and about. There are also privacy concerns about any device that features inbuilt cameras (which Apple’s product may or may not feature) – think Google Glass. Not for nothing were its spying users dubbed ‘glassholes’.
In addition, Apple’s new device is also expected to come with a hefty price tag. It’s more likely we’ll be looking at thousands rather than hundreds. Apple has launched excruciatingly expensive hardware in the past and seen at least some of it succeed, but more usually as a slow burn than through the rapid emptying of bank accounts. Given all of this, it seems that if Tim Cook dons a headset on stage at WWDC it will be a sign of Apple taking a tentative first step rather than betting the farm.
Still, Meta rushing out its cheaper headset may have been a very good idea indeed.