Vision Pro will start at US$3,499, more than three times the cost of the priciest headset in Meta’s line of mixed and virtual reality devices that currently dominate the nascent AR/VR market, Apple said at its annual developer conference.
Apple’s headset will be available early next year in the U.S. with more countries coming later in 2024, the company said.
The company also introduced a raft of new products and features at the conference, including a 15-inch MacBook Air, a powerful chip called M2 Ultra, improvements to its iOS software and a long-awaited tweak to prevent its autocorrect from annoyingly changing a common expletive to “ducking.”
Apple did not make any major announcements about generative AI products similar to ChatGPT or Google’s Bard search engine, although it quietly imbued several smaller features with AI, like live transcriptions of voice mails.
It said users of the Vision Pro will be able to select content inside the goggles with their eyes, tap their fingers together to click and gently flick to scroll, while also using a three-dimensional camera and microphone system to capture videos and pictures than can be viewed in 3D later.
In its most visually striking difference from Meta’s headsets, the device also has an exterior display that shows the user’s eyes to people in the outside world.
The exterior screen goes dark when a user is fully immersed in a virtual world. When a person approaches a user who is in full virtual mode, the headset will show both the user and the outside person to each other, an augmented reality advancement over Meta’s devices which show a more basic video feed of the outside world.
“It’s the first Apple product you look through, not at,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said.
Apple and Meta go head to head
Shares of the iPhone maker rose 2% to hit a record high of $184.95 ahead of the launch but shares closed down 0.8%.
The headset launch will see Apple test a market crowded with devices that have yet to gain traction with consumers and put it in direct competition with Facebook-owner Meta, after years of clashes between the companies over issues like user privacy and control of developer platforms.
Investors and tech fans alike are focused on how much Apple’s view of the virtual reality market overlaps with that put forward by Meta, which currently controls nearly 80% of the market for AR/VR devices, according to market research firm IDC.
Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has outlined his vision for using headsets to dip in and out of a “metaverse” where people can meet virtually to work, play and spend, while Apple executives have eschewed the term.
In addition to Meta, Sony Group Corp and ByteDance-owned Pico both produce virtual reality devices.
IDC said the companies sold a total of 8.8 million headsets last year.
In its announcement, Apple emphasized the novelty of the product’s augmented reality features as well as the sports and entertainment partnerships it would offer, while making no mention of the digital social worlds that Zuckerberg has described.
The headset uses a new chip called R1, which is designed to process information from its sensors in less time than the blink of an eye.
Apple said it has been working with Adobe and Microsoft to put their apps on the new headset, as well as Unity, a technology company that works with game developers. Unity shares surged 17% after the announcement.
Walt Disney’s Disney+ streaming service will be available as well, as will the collection of movies and TV shows from Apple TV+.
The company also showed how the headset can be used with a trackpad and keyboard to work like a traditional computer with multiple displays.
“The core difference to me is Zuckerberg is trying to create a virtual world that he wants us to be in, and it seems to me that Apple wants to keep us still anchored in our world and just augment it,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies.
The Vision Pro has two hours of use with an external battery, which Apple said would reduce the weight on the user’s head. However, the device must be plugged into the wall or battery pack and there is no standalone use.
Meta’s top of the line Quest Pro mixed reality device, which blends virtual reality with the real world video feed, offers about two hours of battery life directly on the headset, without an external battery pack.
Meta likewise offers Microsoft apps on its Quest devices.
Apple updates Macs
Apple also announced a 15-inch MacBook Air powered by an Apple-designed M2 processor chip. The laptop with six speakers will start at $1,299 and be available next week. The 13-inch MacBook Air will drop to $1,099.
It introduced a new version of the Mac Pro, its highest-performing desktop, with an M2 Ultra chip and a price tag starting at $6,999.
Until the announcement, the Mac Pro was the last computer in Apple’s lineup that still used an Intel chip. Intel fell 4.6% after Apple dropped its chips from its most powerful desktop.
“For PC users, there’s never been a better time to switch to a Mac,” said John Ternus, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering.
The updates combine improvements to high-end machines aimed at the developer crowd at the event with tweaks to messaging and a new Mac Air aimed at a much broader group of customers, including potential switchers to Apple.