CONTRIBUTOR

Apple debuted its long-awaited mixed reality headset, the Vision Pro, at the company’s Cupertino campus in California as part of the tech giant’s Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.

The futuristic goggle-like headset, featuring a faceplate made of laminated glass and aluminum, offers users both virtual reality (total immersion) and augmented reality experiences where virtual objects are presented in a layer over the real world.

Apple’s calling this experience “spatial computing”, which will be available to the public next year when the Vision Pro goes on sale starting at $3499.

Thanks to an external battery pack, Apple’s headset boasts a design slimmer than competitors like the Quest Pro and can also be plugged into the wall for an all-day experience (the battery life is just two hours, Apple claims).

The Vision Pro can be operated without any external hardware controls, using only facial and gestural commands to manipulate the visionOS operating system, while an M2 chip simultaneously runs the operating system, executes advanced computer vision algorithms and delivers the graphics.

Paired with the M2 is Apple’s new R1 chip, which is specifically dedicated to process input from the cameras, sensors and microphones, streaming images to the displays within 12 milliseconds.

Apple’s 45-minute presentation of the device focused strongly on the productivity applications for the Vision Pro, including the ability to view multiple windows from Mac computers including Excel, as well as the ability to FaceTime with friends or colleagues who appear as 3D, hologram-esque visions within the headset.

Naturally the Vision Pro also offers immersive entertainment experiences, allowing users to enlarge a film or TV show so that it encompasses their entire field of vision, and offers support for watching 3D content.

The headset is fitted with an eye tracking system of LEDs and infrared cameras, which project invisible light patterns onto each eye and a pair of high-resolution cameras which help deliver precise head and hand tracking and real‑time 3D mapping. Among the other features are Apple’s first 3D camera, which lets users capture spatial photos and spatial videos in 3D.

Forrester VP Principal Analyst, Thomas Husson, notes it is likely the new computer will remain niche for quite some time given its high price point.

“The disruptive effects of the mixed-reality headsets and spatial computing will only be seen in the next couple of years,” he says. “That said, if developers and brands manage to create breakthrough experiences on this new device and Apple successfully sells between 500,000 and 1 million devices in year one, that would already represent a significant revenue uplift between $1.5 billion and $3.5 billion.”

He adds even if Apple only hits half of such ambitious targets, it would be an amazing business achievement for any brand launching a new product line, but for Apple it would represent a more relative contribution to the turnover given the size of the company.

“I am sure skeptics would have expected a stronger emphasis on AI generative tools for developers, but Apple embedded AI directly and seamlessly into new daily consumer experiences,” Husson says.

Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen says enterprise adoption is likely to remain limited so long as the price stays eye-wateringly high and the tangible use cases and value proposition remain murky.

“It’s an impressive piece of hardware. But what we know Apple for is the experience itself,” he says. “If you think about their other product announcements it always comes with more detail, but here it was a little bit more kind of conceptual, like a proof of concept.”

However, the sheer force of Apple’s market presence and marketing prowess is likely to give the entire “spatial computing” AR/VR headset market a jolt, Nguyen notes.

“With Apple’s brand cache, it absolutely validates the market and any operators in the market now, whether you’re talking about competitors or potential partners, are invigorated,” he says. “I think it will give creators a reason to think more about opportunities to do interesting things on what has been the leading platform in mobile computing– that’s the promising part.”

Apple Security expert Dean Hager, CEO at Jamf, on the other hand, says he feels Apple may be more enterprise-focused with the Vision Pro than they have ever been with a new product launch.

“Look at the way Apple presented this, breaking away first to the ways organizations can utilize this incredible new technology,” he says. “When has Apple ever presented the ‘enterprise’ use case before the personal use case?”

He points out Apple talked about replacing multiple displays on the desktop, and about Microsoft Office apps, Zoom, WebEx and remote work.

“They have not said anything yet about whether the Vision Pro will support [mobile device management]. But I believe you can bank on it — soon,” Hager says. “Also, think about verticals like healthcare and education. While the iPad serves as a reasonable screen, visibility is limited. An AR headset would be far more immersive for a physician.”

He notes not only would the visibility be better, but theoretically they will be able to lay over the screen “augmented helpers” to draw the physician’s attention to various AI-enabled observations on the ultra-sound reducing issues that may be missed by the human eye.

“The new Vision Pro which will define a brand new future for all of us,” Hager predicts. “Nobody is in a better position than Apple to succeed with augmented reality goggles.”

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