Will Apple’s forthcoming XR headset provide a glimpse of the future?

Apple on Monday, June 5th at 10am PDT / 1pm EDT is expected to unveil a $3,000 XR (mixed-reality) headset that promises to overlay information over the real world and also transport users to new worlds, games, concerts, sporting events.

Designer Marcus Kane's conception of Apple’s mixed reality headset (via Behance)
Designer Marcus Kane’s conception of Apple’s mixed reality headset (via Behance)

Peter Kafka for Vox:

In the best-case scenario, it’s an early version of tech that hints at the promise to come, when we get a better, cheaper, lighter version … someday down the road.

So on the one hand, Apple is set to unveil a device that could say a lot about its future and the future of consumer tech. But it’s also a bit of a daydream, which will make it very hard to determine whether it’s a hit or a dud. And in the meantime, Apple will very much remain the company that sells iPhones, which is a very good business to be in…

The first is a “copresence” feature, which I’ve heard described in a couple different ways. In one, someone wearing a headset can share video of the thing they’re looking at with another person wearing a headset, and they can both experience the same thing at the same time. Say, you’re walking on the beach, and you want someone who’s across the country to virtually join you while you walk. The other version is closer to something we’ve seen before: You put on a headset and talk to a computer-generated avatar of another person appearing in your field of view.

And perhaps most confusingly, Apple is supposedly going to place exterior screens on the front of headsets, so people who aren’t wearing the headset can see a video display of the eyes of the person wearing the headset. Does that sound like a straight-up nightmare to you? Me too. But people who’ve heard Apple’s pitch say the company thinks it will make the device more social and less dystopian than the zombie-with-computer-on-face image that Mark Zuckerberg proudly showed off in 2016 as part of a marketing push for his Oculus headsets.

MacDailyNews Take: Zuckerberg doesn’t need to wear a headset in order to look like a zombie.

Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg

[H]ow is Tim Cook going to convince consumers [to pony up $3,000 for something that looks like high-tech ski goggles]? It’s going to be tough. For starters, while Cook has been a highly successful CEO — under his tenure, Apple’s stock has soared, and the company is once again approaching $3 trillion in total value — he is not a charismatic salesman in the Steve Jobs mode.

And even Steve Jobs would struggle to sell the benefits of AR or VR goggles. That’s because, by their very nature, you can only see what they do when you wear them yourself. And if you stand on a stage telling people how great they are, you’ll just look like someone onstage with a computer strapped to your face.

“I call it the ‘TV on the radio’ problem,” says Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz: It’s hard to describe a “television” to an audience that has never seen one and is listening to you talk about it on the radio. Abovitz thinks Apple will solve this by sending devices out for hands-on demonstrations at its hundreds of retail stores.

MacDailyNews Take: Of course, without Steve Jobs operating behind the scenes, Apple’s new product classes have to be beta tested by the early adopters and developers (see Apple Watch), so we’ll see on Monday what Apple thinks are the use cases and then, in a couple of years, we’ll see what they’re really meant to do.

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  1. Apple has screen captured and/or will use extra cameras within the headsets during the keynote to show viewers EXACTLY what to expect. The idea that they’re just going to describe it and forward people to Apple stores to try it out is idiotic. Rony Abovitz sounds like a schmendrick.

    1. Nick. I think you missed the point.

      The point is that the experience can’t really be depicted through less immersive technology, and you can’t really grasp what it’s about unless you try it for yourself.

      Using a screen shot of an otherwise immersive VR experience on a TV screen would be equivalent to describing a TV experience over the radio.

      1. Respectfully Sam, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. A POV head-up display video and/or live stream is nowhere near equivalent to describing a TV experience over the radio. It’s SHOWING the TV experience over TV. What Apple shows on Monday will be like giving a new-car-buyer a detailed, high-def overview of the car, how it functions, what the driving experience looks like, etc. Everything short of driving the car themselves. Basically what they’ve done with every new product they’ve released, it will be more than enough to get millions of people gagging for one of their own. The concern-trolling Abovitz is like all of the down-on-AAPL “analysts”, a schmuck.

        1. Nick,

          I see what you’re saying and you make a fair point and maybe the analogy doesn’t completely work.

          However, ultimately, the pitch for the goggles will be that it provides an immersive experience that can’t be replicated on traditional screens so you’ll really need to try it yourself.

          Some cars you do actually need to try out for yourself in order to understand the thrill of driving them.

        2. Thanks for the thoughtful response Sam. To put it in other words, I am confident that Apple will stoke tremendous excitement with their show-and-tell and even though there’s no substitute for trying it out for yourself, I don’t expect the message will leave customers perplexed or disconnected. Assuming it is $3000 at launch then certainly most potential buyers will want to try it out first or at least wait for initial reviews (or at the very least be sure that the 14-day return window still applies). Excited for Monday! 🍻

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