Apple is no longer hiding what should be the highlight of today’s WWDC program – VR/AR glasses. Although I have been following and describing this American company for almost 20 years, I have never waited with such indifference for its debut in a new product category.
This will be the first major premiere of a product that was not created in the company’s head or plans since Steve Jobs. The Apple Watch, the first new product released by the company’s new CEO Tim Cook, has been discussed since the days of its great predecessor.
Apple is stagnant with the iPhone. It has been known for the last few years. Overall, the iPhone accounts for more than 75% of the company’s total revenue – 54% from smartphone sales alone and 22% from services, mainly through smartphones. While this is a huge success – some analysts even call the iPhone the highest-grossing product in human history – it could eventually turn into a big problem when smartphones stop being the dominant technology product in people’s hands.
Apple needs a new kind of computing
Apple needs to create a new fashion, a new trend. The company has long been either catching up or going around in circleі. It has to invent a new way of computing – what would be a new technological accelerator. Something that opens up new markets and builds a new economy that can be compared to the mobile app economy that Cupertino was building.
Apple is not and has never been good at purely software products. The key to success has always been an unusual combination of hardware and software, and Apple has been the best in the market for many years: whether with the premiere of the first Mac, the iPod, or finally the iPhone, or even the Apple Watch, which is finally turning into a major social success.
That’s why Apple is weak in the latest blockbuster of consumer technology, AI. Artificial intelligence is exactly the software, a type of service that is used on technological devices. This service – although Apple was one of the pioneers with Siri – is limping along in Cupertino. There are no signs that this will change anytime soon.
VR/AR-glasses sound like yesterday’s hit
For years, Tim Cook has made no secret of the fact that his company has been working on glasses for virtual and augmented reality. It was just a year ago when everyone was talking about the metaverse, and Facebook even changed its company name to offer a powerful pivot toward VR/AR.
It seemed that Apple had chosen the right time – that this was a truly new type of computing that would set trends for years to come. To quote Zuckerberg, we were to live in virtual reality, meet and work, go to parties, meet people. Today, when everyone is talking about AI and generative AI tools are changing the status of not only the Internet and the tech industry but all life on Earth, virtual and augmented reality glasses seem like a meaningless product of the past.
Well, because we already have glasses – those from Facebook (through the acquired Oculus), or those from Sony to play some games with the PlayStation 5. There are even somewhat forgotten Microsoft Hololens. We have them and we know exactly what they are and what they can be now. The prices for this equipment are still quite high, and Apple will raise them to sky-high levels, as we are talking about a price of 3 thousand USD for Apple glasses. These glasses are a device for entertainment for a while. I do not doubt that Apple’s product will be the best on the market, with some great new features and a WoW effect. But I also have no illusions that it will be either an immediate hit or a new type of computing that will suddenly cause a boom in the development of this category, even in the form of thousands of completely new applications prepared by external developers who are passionate about the hardware.
Let’s take a moment to look at sales forecasts
Not everyone remembers the humble beginnings of the iPhone. It should be recalled that it did not become a hit from the very first days. In the first year of Apple’s smartphones’ availability on the market (2007), 1.39 million units were sold, and in the following years, 11.6 million. Not very impressive, right? The iPhone became a hit only in 2011 when more than 72 million copies were sold. Since 2015, Apple has been selling over 200 million iPhones annually.
The Apple Watch, which debuted in 2015, sold only 10 million units in its first year. In 2018, this figure was already 22.5 million units, and in 2021 – 60 million. A great success, although of course of a much smaller caliber than the iPhone.
Apple does not have overly high plans for VR/AR glasses. Apparently, they are counting on 300 thousand sales in the first year and about a million in the next. Even if these predictions come true, we will be dealing with an extremely niche product with a low user base. This, of course, will not be a new global phenomenon, at least for many years to come. Here, Apple’s success will be the share of sales not so much in relation to the iPhone as to the Apple Watch.
Will Apple glasses change the world?
That’s the main question. Will Apple present something that will change the functional perception of VR/AR glasses? Will their functionality go beyond games and fun?
I would really want to believe that, however, all available sources indicate that this will not happen. Apple is even waiting to see what developers working on apps for glasses will come up with. Apparently, Cook does not want to make the mistake of the Apple Watch debut. According to the original vision of the designers, the watch was supposed to be a fashion product that combines lifestyle with technology. Today, after several years of this product’s presence on the market, we see that it is mainly a gadget from the fitness and health category. Glasses are associated only with the category of games and gaming entertainment. Waiting for others to come up with a new use for them could end up like Facebook did – infantilizing the project.
The concept of Google Glass was great
Speaking about the vision of what VR/AR glasses can change, I keep thinking about the premiere demo that shows what Google Glass was supposed to be. The first concept of this type that, unfortunately, could not be realized at that stage of technology development.
This is the idea of a new kind of computing – moving away from the smartphone as the main device used by humans in favor of a device integrated with the body, providing a digital overlay on reality.
Unfortunately, we know for sure that neither in 2013, when the first version of Google Glass debuted on the market, nor a decade later, when Apple glasses debuted, the technology was developed enough to make the vision of the first Google Glass more realistic. Apple’s glasses promise to be more of a development of the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR concepts than something completely new in this product category.
What about visual impairment?
There is also a very mundane, seemingly trivial problem, visual impairment and VR / AR glasses. None of the current glasses currently available on the market accepts correction for eyeglasses. To use this equipment, you need to remove your glasses. I have a severe visual impairment, so I know what I’m talking about – I can’t enjoy VR games for a long because I just can’t see much. We don’t hear that Apple will have to approach the topic of visual impairment too differently. Therefore, it excludes a wide range of consumers from potential buyers.
Therefore, I’m not waiting for it
Of course, I will be sitting in front of the monitor today with great interest. This will probably be one of the most interesting tech conferences in recent years. Maybe I’ll even be excited about something during the presentation of Apple’s glasses, but more likely my thinking will remain the same as when I wrote this text.
Are you waiting for VR/AR glasses from Apple?