Apple’s New VR Headset: FTW or WTF?

Apple’s new AR/VR headset may offer some fun experiences, but it solves a problem nobody cares about, and comes with lots of problems people do care about.

Apple is a company known for doing its research and prototyping until they get the product right, even if its competitors might be beating them to the punch. They’re also known for inventing entire product categories, like the smartphone. No one knew they needed a smartphone until the first iPhone launch, and now more than 90% of us carry them with us every day.

Which is Apple’s announcement of its forthcoming AR/VR headset—the Apple Vision Pro—was so surprising. On the surface, it’s hard to square this product launch with the company that invented smartphones, laptops, and tablet computing. It was because of this reputation that the Vision Pro launch was accompanied by a lot of hype claiming that Apple’s headset was going to be a transformational game-changer. 

That is, until the internet did what it does best: make memes. 

Internet jokesters relentlessly memed photos from the Vision Pro launch, pointing out the product’s many challenges. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, we’ll let the memesters speak to most of the big issues. We’ll also take a look at some market and technical challenges, which are less funny, and therefore less memeable.

Six big reasons (four meme-able and two serious) why Apple’s Vision Pro could see some market challenges:

1. $3,500? In this economy?

In an economy where the skyrocketing cost of living continues to be a challenge, $3500 is a pretty shocking price tag for an unproven technology that still has a lot of question marks attached. That’s more than twice the US average rent. For comparison: when Apple launched the first iPhone, it retailed for $599 — which is about $840 in today’s dollars. 

And if you’re one of the estimated 55% of adults that wears glasses? No problem! You can get custom prescription lenses for your headset, which definitely doesn’t sound expensive at all.

2. It looks stupid.

One of the things Apple is most known for is The Aesthetic✨. Apple designs its products to be prestige products designed to look cool, and make you look cool while you’re using them, and they’re very, very good at it. Which is why Steve Jobs got onstage when announcing the first iPhone and did a live demo himself.

However, the Vision Pro was notably missing from the faces of current Apple execs at its launch. After the Vision Pro launch, reporter Mark Gurman tweeted, Unless I missed something, it is very curious to me why there are no photos of Tim Cook or other Apple executives actually wearing the Vision Pro.” 

One obvious reason: they look ridiculous. 

And it’s not just the memesters who think so. Business Insider called them nerd goggles that will make most people look uncool”. Gizmodo described it as seems cool, doesn’t look cool” . And Wired called it a snorkel mask for dorks”.

Apple is going to have an uphill battle on its hands trying to get people to actually wear the Vision Pro — unless exclusively in the privacy of their own homes.

3. VR-induced nausea is very common.

Another tough sell is the fact that the Vision Pro doesn’t offer any new technology to address the problem of VR motion sickness. Studies have found that between 25% to 40% of people who use VR experience motion sickness, with — despite Apple’s mostly-female models — women being more susceptible than men. 

VR sickness is a big deal—more than 66% of VR users quit using VR within 20 minutes because of it. Even second-hand videos of play experiences can cause motion sickness in others.

4. Eye strain is also a problem.

Many of those of us who grew up analog will remember our parents chastising us for sitting too close to the TV, but early data shows that there is truth to this stereotype. Eye strain is a known issue with VR headsets, and children under 13 are cautioned not to use them because it could hamper development of their sight.

5. People are less interested in VR now that they can leave the house again.

Industry experts have been saying for a while that the Metaverse — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for a 3D digital AR and VR space that would succeed the mobile internet — is dead.

During the early pandemic, retailers in the UK saw a massive 350% increase in sales of VR headsets to people desperate for safe ways to escape being trapped at home. Now that (for better or for worse) people have moved on from pandemic precautions? People have better things to do with their time.

Nor are they interested in replacing workstations with cumbersome headsets. A recent Forrester report showed that claims for the workplace potential of AR and VR applications are often exaggerated, because employees don’t want to use them.

6. Truly transformational applications of AR will require 5G, which just isn’t ready yet.

One of the most compelling use cases of AR in general is outside of home and office, enhancing the world around us as we’re on the go. However, these use cases will require a lot of data access, and 5G connectivity just isn’t there yet. That’s likely why there was no mention of 5G connectivity in the Vision Pro launch.

According to Fierce Wireless, analysts are not surprised there’s no 5G in this device, and they predict it will be applied later. The Vision Pro appears mostly aimed at use in fixed locations, such as at home or at work. As a result, it seems likely that Wi-Fi connectivity will be ample for the headset,” said CCS Insight principal analyst Leo Gebbie.

For now, it seems that use of the Vision Pro is limited to the home or other place where reliable Wi-Fi connectivity is available, such as the workplace, hotel rooms, and so on. (That could, at least, solve the issue of nobody wanting to be seen in public with nerd goggles” on.)

The Vision Pro is a niche product for AR/VR enthusiasts, but watch out for future iterations.

All is not lost for the Vision Pro — after all, we’re only at the start of this technology, and it does offer some very fun experiential features. 

Lest we forget, the Apple II series computers were known for being one of the ugliest computers ever made, but they paved the way for Apple’s candy-colored, ultra-cool iMacs, some 20 years later. Similarly, we’re betting that if any company can crack the problem of making AR/VR glasses look cool and become more accessible, it’s Apple.

As Apple continues to gobble North American market share, they have the (very) deep pockets needed to tackle the technical limitations facing this current version. And with the ever-accelerating pace of technological change, we probably won’t have to wait twenty years this time.

Stay up to date with telecom trends and insights! Sign up for our monthly newsletter The Overview.