Editorial: Apple Reality may aim to replace the iPad, while Meta…

Editorial: Apple Reality may aim to replace the iPad, while Meta...

I was reading Mark Gurmans latest rumors about the upcoming Apple headset, and I found his article very intriguing. But not much for the rumored specifications of the device, but more for the applications that were reported to be present at the launch. Let me explain to you why.

Apple Reality may be the new iPad

Apple Reality (the rumored name of the device) should run the following applications, as reported by my friends of Road To VR:

  • iPad apps adapted for mixed reality: Calendars, Contacts, Files, Home control, Mail, Maps, Messaging, Notes, Photos, Reminders, Music, News, Stocks, and Weather apps.
  • FaceTime: conferencing service will generate 3D versions of users in virtual meeting rooms.
  • Freeform collaboration app: will let users work on virtual whiteboards together while in mixed reality.
  • Work apps: Pages word processing, Numbers spreadsheet and Keynote slide deck apps, as well as iMovie and GarageBand for video and music production.
  • Apple TV: both immersive sports content and traditional video content the latter presented in virtual environments, such as a desert or the sky (sport broadcasting tech could come from the acquisition of NextVR)
  • Apple Books: will allow users to read in virtual reality.
  • Fitness+: will let users exercise while watching an instructor in VR.
  • Multitasking & Siri: will be able to run multiple apps at the same time, floating within the mixed reality space. Siri voice control is also present.
  • Camera app: can take pictures from the headset.

The 2D applications are reported to run in floating windows in the environment around the user, as HoloLens was used to doing. And exactly like the Hololens, the headset will remember where you have opened the various apps and let you find them exactly as you left them. Also the control scheme would be voice+hands like the Hololens. With the difference of the HoloLens, though, this headset is not a see-through AR device, but a screen-through one, like the Quest Pro.

Some interactions with the HoloLens 2

Apple aims to position the headset as a device for getting work done. I can envision people using it as some sort of Mac or iPad, sitting on a chair and moving some apps around them, like in virtual screens all around them. Thanks to the power of the M2 processor, the very high resolution of the device, and the lightweight design, it should be possible to do some work in multitasking between the various applications that are all around you. It should be like having big virtual screens all around you.

Apples products are very popular among content creators (e.g. video makers), and this device would give them the power of using many screens around them. I know that people that work with videos, images, and media, in general, need huge screens, so if this device is able to give it to them, it would be great.

Freeform and FaceTime could also be great for brainstorming and communicating. Again, creative people need to sketch, need to brainstorm with their peers, so its good that the Apple XR ecosystem may give them a shared whiteboard to meet remotely and think about ideas with other colleagues.

For more casual use, Fitness+ and immersive sports watching could do the trick. Also, gaming should be important for this device, according to the latest report: gaming is always nice to have, so it doesnt surprise me that it will be part of this platform, too. But gaming shouldnt be the main purpose of this headset.

What I see here is an initial vision of making a device for multiple uses. This is not a gaming device, but it is something like your iPad: you can use it to work, but also to contact people, watch videos, and also to play. I like that this device is thought since the beginning as an iPad/Mac replacement, and it is not focusing on one or two verticals, but it tries to give a more complete experience. In the beginning, given also the high price, it will probably stick more to professional and Apple enthusiasts, but later on, with future editions, it may also start getting the attention of the consumer world.

The seamless transition

iPhone X. This is the first Apple keynote I watched hoping for something XR-related. Of course, I was disappointed

I made the comparison with the iPad/Mac because I think that if this headset proves to be good, over the next years, it could start replacing these devices, at least for at-home usage. Instead of sitting down at a desk using your Mac, you sit down with the Reality Pro headset and do the same things. Notice that many native iOS apps are being ported to the xrOS operating system (which is based on iOS, by the way), so you have just to switch devices and keep using the applications you were using before. The report talks about Apple TV, Apple Fitness+, Apple word processor, etc so all already existing Apple apps coming to the new device. I also bet that the Reality headset will integrate seamlessly with other Apple devices (Apple Watch, iPhone, Mac, iPad, etc), so for people in the Apple ecosystem should be easy to start using it. They just have to use the same things, but with a new device.

Apple has never hidden that its goal is augmented reality, and so its final vision is that people will all go to the street with an Apple Glass in front of their faces. This new transition will be smooth, too. Once the ecosystem is all set, people should just migrate from an MR-passthrough headset that looks like ski goggles to pure see-through AR glasses that look like sunglasses. Instead of indoor usage, people will also be able to use it for outdoor usage.

I see the full transition from the current Apple devices to the future AR glasses as pretty seamless.

The other advantages

This is the future

We already talked about all the advantages that Apple will have with respect to its competitors when coming to the market:

  • A very strong brand
  • A strong reputation for privacy (true or not, this is what they built)
  • An amazing expertise with UX which will make the device very usable
  • Stores in which to demo the devices, so people can try them, fall in love with AR and buy them
  • An ecosystem where everything is perfectly integrated
  • A huge library of content (music, videos, etc) to propose since Day 1

I would also add another one that is usually not mentioned: Meta. Meta has literally spent billions to promote XR, and thanks to its efforts almost everyone now knows that XR exists, that it can be cool, and that it will be part of our future (the nebulous M-word). Now Apple can sit down on these efforts and propose an MR device on a market that is more aware than it was 5 years ago.

Will it succeed?

A leaked sketch of Apple mixed reality glasses (Image by The Information)

No one knows if the Apple headset will succeed. The market is always unpredictable. For sure at $3000, it wont be a huge commercial success among consumers. I agree with the estimates of a few hundred thousand units sold this year. But the matter is not to make this device already mainstream but to start the ecosystem. Over the years, with more powerful and cheaper devices, more people will join XR, following the smooth transition that I mentioned before. Apple hopes this headset to be like the Apple Watch: not strong sales in the beginning, but very successful device in the long run.

For now, probably the device has the potential to become popular among media content creators, tech enthusiasts, and Apple fanboys. I think the approach is the right one, but it may take years before its vision becomes reality. And this is ok, many technologies started in some niches and then expanded to consumers.

Meta and the problem of gaming

(Image by Meta)

Ive always criticized Metas decision of focusing so heavily on games. I love games, and some VR games like Red Matter, InDeath: Unchained, or Resident Evil VR gifted me amazing hours of playtime. But games are always a limited part of our life. When we speak about AR, VR, and the vision of the metaverse (the real one), I see myself living in a constant mixed reality, meeting people that are distant from me, having better tools for working, having a constant assistant in MR that helps me on the things I am doing (e.g. the glasses suggest me a new restaurant to go when Im walking around in a new city), and so on. I dont envision myself gaming all the time. I envision a full disruption of my life.

Now everyone is hyping AI, and the reason is that AI can disrupt (maybe even too much) every sector of our lives. Can also bring better games to the table, but Ive never heard of anyone wanting to focus all the AI tech just on making better games. Thats why I think we shouldnt do the same for VR, too. And thats also why in my newsletter the pieces news about games have always had a limited space: as Ive said, I love VR games, but Im aiming more for news that can show the path of an ecosystem that grows to make us arrive at the M-word.

The Quest is instead basically a VR console. Which is cool, but it means it has a limited purpose. Meta focused on the most promising vertical, and this was good to have initial revenues, but the problem is that it was found later trapped inside that vertical. Everyone sees the Quest as a device to play games.

You may say: yes, but with the Quest you can do many other things: productivity, movies, etc . Lately Quest also launched the possibility of having progressive apps, so you can use for instance GDoc on your Quest. But again, this is not the main use of the device, and personally, I dont know many people that use the Quest mainly for this purpose. The main purpose for which people buy a Quest is games, and in fact, the majority of articles in VR magazines are about games. And good luck in entering the Quest Store with an app that is not about gaming.

Sam&Max: This Time Is Virtual is another amazing game on the Quest (Image by Happy Giant)

The Quest Pro tried to change this trend: Meta launched it as a device specifically for professionals, and launched it together with a partnership with Microsoft, for instance. Im fairly convinced that the launch of the Quest Pro was made to try to launch a headset like Apple but before Apple. The bad news is that the launch was a disaster: the headset looked overpriced and the first reviews were pretty cold. Probably it was rushed to try to come out before Apple, and this was a bad decision. I have a Quest Pro, but still use mainly my Quest 2 for development, and this should tell you a lot about this device. And also during the launch they still talked about the Xbox Game Pass

The weird transition on the Meta side

If Apples transition is smooth, Meta one is pretty weird. I can try to summarize its plan this way:

  1. People use every day a set of successful Meta social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, etc)
  2. ???
  3. People start using a gaming Meta VR device
  4. ???
  5. People have Meta AR glasses for everyday use

To me, it seems the plan of South Parks Underpants Gnomes. It has not much sense, and it requires two big leaps.

One of the best moments in South Park ever (NSFW language in the video, though)

Again, I can understand why Meta did this. They needed to get the technological expertise in immersive realities and in building hardware and so they started with the Rift/Quest. And since they needed to find a commercial application, they found gaming to be a profitable niche and entered it. This is a typical business decision.

But I think that, in hindsight, probably it was the wrong one. They should have proposed games on a device marketed for more purposes. Pico for instance did a better job: when launching the Pico 4, they talked about games, but also about other kinds of experiences and potential uses.

Another problem is the one of the ecosystem: while Apple has already content, apps, etc... Meta is trying to build everything from scratch, usually through partnership. Which is much harder. So an Apple TV user can easily put on the Reality headset and watch a football match there, but no one is currently an Oculus TV user unless it has a Meta headset. So Meta has to rely on external existing services, e.g. Netflix or Amazon Prime, but currently their VR applications are not that great (when they exist).

Meta is also trying to understand what works better by launching many devices: there are the Rayban Stories, Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest Pro, and the ongoing work on Project Nazare and Project Aria. I appreciate theyre trying different routes, it makes sense. But it is also a bit confusing at this moment.

I wonder if it could make sense to make things clearer to just dedicate the Quest to gaming (and transform it into a console) and then launch a totally different device just dedicated to becoming the new smartphone. A bit like Sony has PSVR 2 but is rumored to work also on another more general-purpose headset.

Now Quest 3 is going to launch and some reports talk about more than 40 mixed-reality apps that are in the work for it. Im wondering if Meta is doing some kind of transition and is trying to perform a new market positioning with the Quest 3. I guess in September we will see.

The future is still uncertain, though

The Quest 3 (Image by Brad Lynch)

This article was just a reflection of mine triggered by a report I read yesterday. But take it with kilos of grains of salt. First of all, we dont know if the rumors are true, and we dont even know if Apple is going to launch a headset. Then we dont know how the market will react to it.

I just wanted to say that I think that probably Apple used the best strategy: it let a competitor prepare the field, studied what was happening around it, and then now is working on launching something that can coherently expand its ecosystem and lead its users toward a mixed reality world. On paper, it is at least the approach that personally I like more. But we dont know if it will be the right one, only time (and people) will tell. Maybe actually Meta will be the one to succeed in the long run. Who knows.

The only thing Im sure of is that Apple will never use the word metaverse. But the funny thing is that it is working exactly towards that vision, but just giving it a different name. Lets say it wont be the first time that Apple doesnt adhere to a standard

Anyway, the good news is that an eventual Apple launch will finally bring some life again to our XR ecosystem which is currently in the quicksands. And finally we will see some serious competition in the XR space even if I truly hope that a company that values openness for real can join the field because if our only alternatives are the walled gardens of Meta and Apple, Im not very confident for the future. We are in the fuckedverse.

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