Signs are pointing that Apple will announce its first headset in the next few months. This would be a major new product for Apple – and the industry beyond –, but there is very little excitement in the air.
We can blame Meta for that. After buying Oculus, iterating over the product for almost 9 years since, and reportedly spending more than $10 billion a year on it, their VR products remains a distinct Meh. I bought a Quest 2 myself, and while it definitely has some interesting features (I climbed Mt Everest, in VR!), it mostly sits on the shelf, gathering dust.
So the industry consensus is that Apple’s won’t amount to much either. If Meta couldn’t find compelling use cases, the thinking goes, Apple won’t either, because there aren’t any! (Other than some limited forms of gaming and some niche enterprise ones.)
I think this line of thinking would be a mistake.
My argument: Apple understands their customers and works down their use cases better than anybody. If Apple works on a new product category for many years – and signs are that they have – and then finally decides that the product is ready, chances are, it is. Their track record on new products is largely unblemished since the return of Jobs about 25 years ago:
- fruity fun design for a computer (iMac) – success
- digital music player (iPod) – smashing success
- smartphone (iPhone) – so successful it killed and reinvented an entire industry
- table (iPad) – success
- watch (iWatch) – success
- … and many smaller products, like headsets, voice assistance, Keynote etc.
Looking for a major dud in those 25 years, I can’t really find one. (Sure, some smaller things like the 25-year anniversary Mac – but that was always a gimmick, not a serious product line.)
It appears that based on their history, betting against Apple’s headset is not a smart move. Even if we can’t imagine why an Apple headset would be compelling before we see it: we non-Apple people didn’t predict iPhone either, but once we saw it, it was “immediately” obvious.
So let’s turn this around. What about we instead assume the headset will be a major success? Then what?
I believe this would transform the entire technology industry profoundly. For historical analogies, I would have to go back all the way to the early 80’s when graphical user interfaces first became widely used – coincidentally (or not) an Apple accomplishment: they represented a fundamentally different way of interacting with computers than the text terminals that came before them. Xerox Parc gave that demo to many people. Nobody saw the potential and went with it, just Apple did. And they pulled a product together that caused the entire industry to transform. Terminals are still in use, but only by very few people for very specific tasks (like system administrators).
What if AR/VR interfaces swept the world as the GUI swept the PC?
I believe they can, if somebody relentlessly focuses on uses cases and really makes them work. I built my first 3D prototype in VRML in 1997. It was compelling back then and it would be today. Those uses can be found, I’m quite certain.
Based on everything we’ve seen, it’s clear that Meta won’t find them. Hanging out with your friends who don’t look like your friends in some 3D universe is just not it. But if anybody can do it, it’s Apple.
So I’m very much looking forward to seeing what they came up with, and I think you should be, too.