It’s been a little over a month since Apple announced their first major product since 2014s ‘Apple Watch’ in the ‘Apple Vison’ at WWDC 2023. A month since they showcased with an admittedly inspired 10-minute reveal to cap off the show of what the future of their mixed-reality headset’s “spatial computing” holds. A presentation that not only showcased the impressive tech inside the product, but the eye-watering price tag of $3499 USD. Talk about sticker shock. Though, for all the hype that surrounded these pair of Black Mirror goggles spearheaded by journalists and foamy-mouthed YouTube tech bros alike, it seems the flames of excitement have simmered somewhat surrounding Apple’s future in VR/AR.
Meta, on the other hand, are continuing with their approach to consumer-friendly VR with the third iteration of their ‘Quest’ line of headsets scheduled to release this fall. It’s been reported that Meta’s line of ‘Quest’ headsets have sold more than 20 million units globally, making them the best-selling VR headsets of all time. However, even with these great sales numbers, vice president of VR Mark Rabkin told employees earlier this year during a presentation that retention rate for new users has been an ongoing struggle saying:
“We need to be better at growth and retention and resurrection…We need to be better at social and actually make those things more reliable, more intuitive so people can count on it.”
There’s a word in the second part of that quote that’s important. “Social”. In an interview on the Lex Fridman Podcast, Mark Zuckerberg himself talked about the difference in ideology of the two companies in how they see mixed reality. First acknowledging that Apple, being the company that they are and the influence that they have in the market, “Increases demand for the overall [VR] space”. Then going on to elaborate how Meta are focused on bringing everyone aboard the ‘Metaverse,’ saying:
“We want people to be able to connect with each other…We’re not just trying to serve an elite, wealthy crowd.”
That last bit is clearly taking a jab at the obscene price of the ‘Apple Vision,’ though he does acknowledge the amount of tech Apple are cramming into the device, which no doubt plays a role into its price. Zuckerberg goes on to mention how they want to tackle every facet of both the virtual and augmented realities with their products. From gaming and media consumption, to fitness, and of course: creating a social network. For all its issues regarding privacy and data collection, for how much the company has ruined ‘Instagram,’ and for all of Zuckerberg’s lizard-like awkward social interactions, I will admit that I agree with his stance on what mixed reality should be.
For as impressed as I was during Apple’s presentation of their ‘Apple Vision’ at WWDC, with its next-level eye-tracking technology, the seamless interface and gesture controls, and quality of overall design with bleeding edge hardware and specs, I did feel that the entire experience seemed…isolating. Yes, I would love to have a theatre-like experience watching Avatar: The Way of Water on a massive and high-resolution virtual screen with spatial audio, but I’d be watching it alone. On the ‘Meta Quest 2’ I can use the popular third party app, ‘BigScreen,’ to watch a movie in a virtual theatre with friends and even strangers across the world. On ‘Apple Vision’ one can do their work with “spatial computing,” but once again it’s an isolated experience, and not the communal one that Meta envisions with their Metaverse—yes, it’s nowhere near as fluid as they would like to present here, but it’s the idea that counts.
Sure you can capture 3D memories with the ‘Vision,’ – while those that you’re capturing can see a digitally recreated image of your face on the outside of the headset like something out of a terrible cyberpunk movie – but you could also just…take a normal picture. Especially since every time you’d want to ‘relive’ that 3D memory you’d have to wear the headset again, and be unable to share it with the family like you would a normal photo or video. Apple also didn’t showcase any of the other things one could (and can) do with a mixed reality headset. Gaming—either virtual or augmented—fitness, or any true form of social media weren’t present; aside from ‘FaceTime,’ which allows users to make a call with the recipient seeing, once again, a horrifying digital recreation of the user’s face.
It’ll be interesting to see how users react to the ‘Apple Vision’ once it releases early next year. From my vantage point, though the tech is impressive, I can’t see even the most die-hard Apple fans be swayed to spend the car loan on a device that seemingly has far less to offer when compared to its much cheaper competitor in the ‘Meta Quest.’ Though, many said the same for the first iPhone so we’ll see what the future holds—I just hope it doesn’t isolate us more than smartphones and social media already have.