Posted on July 11, 2023 in Technology

Who is this Apple Gadget Built For?

Apple’s newest VR headset, the Apple Vision Pro, is technologically impressive – but it’s priced out of reach for many VR enthusiasts. Who is it for, exactly?

The Device Costs As Much as a Used Car

Apple’s Vision Pro headset costs 3,499$ not including tax. It’s such a gigantic price point that it’s hard not to picture what an average consumer could get elsewhere with that money. Many highschoolers drive cars that cost less than this device – before the pandemic completely destroyed both the new and used car markets, finding a used car that still drove reliably for under 2,000 American dollars was possible. Less, even, if that highschooler had family looking to get rid of a beater. You could get four touchscreen Dell computers with i5 cores, 16 GB of RAM, and Windows 11 included for the same price as one Apple Pro headset as of this article’s writing.

This is the latest in a long line of Apple products priced prohibitively. Apple devices were always costly, but they were a sort of costly that made sense – if you really need a photography-grade camera in your phone, then save up for an Apple device and be set for years. As of recently, every device demands a significant investment, whether ‘better’ equipment exists for the task or not.

Technologically Impressive

It was always going to be expensive, though, even without Apple branding. The price reflects what might be a breakthrough in wearable tech, and the device is certainly impressive. It can do things that the Apple iPhone can do as well as simulate Virtual Reality around the wearer. Images of the device seem to hint you may be able to walk around with these things on without being completely blind behind the visor – the presentation states that this is the first Apple product you look through, not at. The ‘screen’ is transparent. You are seeing reality with the augment layered over it in the lenses, the way Google wanted to do it years ago but couldn’t make look natural.

This isn’t smaller or more discreet, but “ski goggles” that can run intensive apps without another computer attached to them is the stuff science fiction writers have been dreaming of! It’s goofy now, sure, but the iPhone was goofy – the first iPhone was four or five good products mushed into one okay-ish product before it found its footing and started doing things well.

While this is goofy, and expensive, and right now its usefulness is pretty much just for entertainment, it is still impressive. Someday it might be a regular piece of techwear. It depends on what people can find them useful for, the true question that determines the product’s life.  

How Much Use Are Headsets Anyway?

Most of the advertising seems to suggest this is best for filming videos and consuming content. That’s certainly an increasing part of everyday life for many people, but for the same price, those people can buy a quality TV and soundbar and couch and have a decent home entertainment system that shows stuff to more than one person at a time. Even if they wanted the apps, they could buy at least two of the newest iPhone for the same price as one set of ski goggles. Nobody can agree on whether headsets, augmented reality glasses, and metaverses have real value beyond entertainment.

Potential monetary gain is getting in the way of real assessments! If augmented reality or metaverses ever find their footing, the money made by the people who establish themselves first will be completely insane the same way the first NFT sales were insane. They have a motivation besides advancement of the technology to push this stuff. It’s why Facebook bought Oculus, and then never seemed to do anything with it. Zuckerberg saw the potential for purchasable avatar clothing and virtual storefronts that would have to pay ‘rent’ for the virtual space, which Facebook/Meta could sell for massively inflated prices compared to website domains.

Worse, some of the people pushing hardest for Metaverse successors don’t even think that potential money will last, they just figure a boom-bust cycle is inevitable – the sooner the boom, the sooner they can extract money from people and then bounce before it all comes crashing down.

However, while that attitude is everywhere within the companies, it’s getting in the way of making an enjoyable experience for the end user. There is no money to be made until the consumer is having enough fun to spend a couple dollars on a virtual arcade game, or uses their avatar enough to buy it a funny hat. The only reason so many of the crypto ones exist at all is because the funding comes in before they have time to set up all the little microtransactions designed to bleed consumer wallets dry. Once those are in place, the Metaworld’s player count usually drops sharply. Not even the worst arcades in the world steal quarters like these places plan to, and every single one thinks they’re the first to have the idea.

 Metaverses are often painted as a sort of cyberpunk wonderland, the future, the inevitable next step in technology, but they never seem to end up getting there because ‘visionaries’ and ‘early adopters’ make promises they can’t keep and slink away with whatever they got first. If the virtual parts of augmented and virtual reality never improve because of this cycle, then there just won’t ever be a stable set of apps and programs to use on the very expensive hardware bought to facilitate it. Apple has the potential to fix the second part of that because it has final say on every app in the app store as well as the funding necessary to make new and exciting apps for the headset should it choose to do so, but the first part is going to take some serious reimagining of the space’s potential.  

In the face of all of that, what can a peripheral do to prove itself worthy of a consumer’s time? Does Apple really believe this headset is the future, or is it banking on customers buying it to use as a status symbol-slash-fashion statement? For that matter, if money is removed from the conversation, if you could just have one, would you want it, and use it if you got it?

What would you use it for?