Apple's headset will land at a shaky time for the metaverse

·4 min read

Apple (AAPL) is expected to roll out its highly anticipated AR/VR headset during its WWDC developer conference in June. The VR/AR device will be the first new major product release from Apple since it debuted its first-generation AirPods seven years ago. To say the headset is an important product for the company is an understatement.

But the device, which Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says will be called either the Reality Pro or Reality One, is coming at a rocky time for VR/AR and the metaverse as a whole. Between a lack of engaging content and companies like Microsoft (MSFT) and Disney (DIS) shuttering divisions behind their own metaverse efforts, Apple will have its work cut out for it in ensuring that its product is a success.

“A fully realized Metaverse is still at least a decade away,” explained Ramon Llamas, research director for International Data Corporation’s devices and displays team.

“And I don't think it's possible for any company, even if you're Apple, to come in and say, ‘Here's our very first VR headset or AR headset,’ and then say, ‘Okay, now we have a metaverse.’ ”

Apple CEO Tim Cook gestures at the Apple Fifth Avenue store for the release of the Apple iPhone 14 range in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., September 16, 2022.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Apple CEO Tim Cook gestures at the Apple Fifth Avenue store for the release of the Apple iPhone 14 range in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., September 16, 2022. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

And while Apple has a proven track record of breaking into established markets and revolutionizing them, this will surely be its most difficult test yet.

Apple has proven its mettle before

So far, Meta (META) is the undisputed leader in the AR/VR space. The company, according to The Verge, has sold 20 million Quest headsets to date and controlled 81% of global market share as of Q4 2022, according to CounterPoint Research.

But Apple has entered and taken over markets dominated by other firms before. Remember BlackBerry? The iPhone all but ended that company’s reign. Fitbit? It got bought up by Google after losing ground to the Apple Watch, which is now the industry leader. The iPad is the go-to tablet, and AirPods revolutionized truly wireless earbuds.

Apple’s Reality headset, which Bloomberg reports will cost $3,000, could be another Apple product that upends an existing industry and, in turn, drives greater interest in the metaverse.

And while the company might not be able to manifest an entire metaverse on its own, its entry could be the jumping off point to getting there.

“That could very well be a watershed moment for the metaverse and how people think about it,” Scott Kessler, Third Bridge global sector lead for tech, media, and telecom, told Yahoo Finance Live.

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Apple, however, will have to overcome some major roadblocks if its headset is going to be a success. First off, companies are already beginning to pull back on their metaverse efforts. Microsoft is paring its metaverse initiatives, according to The Information, as is Disney, which is shutting down its metaverse division.

And while Meta is still investing heavily in the metaverse — it changed its name to reflect the fact that the initiative is its main focus — it’s recently turned its focus to its AI.

The metaverse is still a foggy concept

The metaverse itself has two real problems standing in its way. The first is that the entire concept has never been made clear for people to grasp. The second? Everything we’ve been told to expect is still years away from becoming a reality.

“It does seem like it’s kind of amorphous, and there are other opportunities that seem, not just more near term, but more appealing,” Kessler said.

Depending on who you ask, the metaverse is a series of interconnected online worlds that will eventually allow us to move seamlessly across the web using a single avatar, or something more akin to Roblox. Heck, your smartphone could be considered a gateway to the metaverse.

It’s that ambiguity, though, that makes selling the idea to consumers so difficult.

“We've got so caught up as to what the metaverse could be, but we’ve totally lost sight of what we're able to do,” said Llamas.

In other words, metaverse companies have pitched hanging out in a virtual world inhabited by digital avatars of our friends, but it isn’t quite ready for prime time.

All of that said, Apple’s entrance into the race could provide just the kind of boost the industry needs to help both AR/VR and the metaverse truly take off.

Now we just have to wait until WWDC to find out if that comes to fruition.

By Daniel Howley, tech editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him @DanielHowley

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