Apple and Meta are two of the world’s biggest tech companies, and both of them have dipped their toes into a new technology recently - mixed reality. While Meta Platforms is no stranger to mixed reality, courtesy of its Metaverse and Meta Quest lineup, it has eluded Apple so far, but not anymore. At the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2023 on June 5, Apple took the wraps off its first-ever mixed reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro. Although both of these headsets aim to improve mixed reality, they target different demographics.
Developed by Apple’s unit called Vision Products Group (VPG) led by Mike Rockwell, the Vision Pro is a spatial computer that allows users to experience apps and features in an augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) environment. The headset is fitted with 23 million micro-OLED pixels across displays along with 5 sensors and 12 cameras. Powering all this tech is a fan-cooled computer with an M2 chip and a new R1 chip, running on VisionOS. It has an external battery that lasts up to two hours and can connect via a woven cable.
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While all this tech seems groundbreaking, there are several issues with the Vision Pro. The first is its price. Unlike the recently launched Meta Quest 3 which is aimed at regular Metaverse users, the Apple Vision Pro is a top-of-the-line headset but comes with a hefty $3499 price tag. At this price point, it is comfortably the most expensive MR headset on the market, but cannot be bought just yet. Apple announced that Vision Pro would not go on sale until early 2024, and as of now, only a handful of developers have been provided access to it.
Thus, would mass-market consumers be willing to shell out thousands of dollars on a product that only developers have tested behind the scenes? We’re yet to see.
The second problem with the Apple Vision Pro? Its ease of use and accessibility. Although only a handful of developers have got their hands on the Vision Pro, there have already been issues such as it causing a neck strain. The headset comes with a tethered battery back that needs to be lugged around wherever you take the headset, decreasing its portability. In his latest Power On newsletter, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that Apple is considering solving this issue with a neck strap that provides support for the headset. While Apple has also tried to make the headset slimmer, it has given rise to a new problem altogether - support for prescription glasses.
The Vision Pro doesn’t really have the space to fit in prescription glasses, according to Gurman. Instead, Apple announced that it would tie up with Zeiss to offer custom prescription lenses that would fit into slits on the headset. While this may seem the perfect solution, it raises the logistical question. Would Apple and Zeiss be able to provide their millions of potential users around the world with tailored prescription lenses? And what if the eyesight changes? They would again need to shell out big bucks for another pair of lenses. Another potential solution doing the rounds is shipping the Vision Pro with built-in prescription lenses. But it again raises those same issues.
On paper, the Meta Quest 3 sounds like a sure winner. It is cheaper than the Apple Vision Pro, is readily available, and Meta is already familiar with mixed reality, courtesy of its Metaverse. But the reality isn’t as simple. According to Gurman, the main aim for Meta with its Quest 3 is lowering the price. Although it is priced at $500, which is seven times cheaper than the Vision Pro, it is still $200 more expensive than the Quest 2. Therefore, lowering the price could potentially mean it reaching a wider audience. Gurman claimed that Meta would be marketing the Quest 3 as a mid-tier offering next year, and could potentially launch a successor to the failed Quest Pro that debuted at a $1500 price.
Meta already has an advantage over Apple due to having a developed platform for the Quest 3. It has a vast range of apps, games, and more that users can dive straight in, without having to wait. However, the company is still wary of Apple. A Meta employee told Gurman, “We’re in the ‘afraid of Apple’ stage”.
In the race to offer the best mixed-reality headset in the market, will the Apple Vision Pro trump Meta owing to its groundbreaking features and flagship specs? Or will Quest 3 take over, offering an affordable entry into the interconnected, online world? We’re yet to see. But the battle between the two tech titans could be the one to watch this year and in the near future.
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