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Apple debuts RM16,000 headset in test of its marketing might

Tan KW
Publish date: Tue, 06 Jun 2023, 08:31 AM
Tan KW
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Apple Inc will charge an eye-popping US$3,499 for its long-awaited mixed-reality headset, testing whether consumers are ready to spend big bucks on a technology that the company sees as the future of computing.

The iPhone maker unveiled the new Vision Pro headset at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on June 5, the culmination of more than seven years of development.

Introduced with Steve Jobs’ trademark phrase - “one more thing” - the product vaults Apple into its first major new category since it began selling smartwatches in 2015. The Vision Pro also could be one of the riskiest launches in the company’s history.

In a wide-ranging presentation, Apple demonstrated the headset’s myriad features and spotlighted content planned for the product, including games and interactive video from Walt Disney Co. The device, which resembles high-tech ski goggles, will have its own operating system, vision OS, and a dedicated app store. It’s slated to arrive early next year.

The Vision Pro is the latest of what Apple hopes is a groundbreaking new product that can help the tech titan maintain sales. It will attempt to redefine a still-nascent industry in the same vein as the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.

More broadly, it aims to change how people interact with the world. Apple has long been seeking a new platform to take it beyond the iPhone and iPad, and this could be that path. The wearable device mixes virtual and augmented reality, meaning it can fully engross a user in content with high-resolution displays - ideal for video watching - or overlay apps on top of the wearer’s field of view, letting messages and notifications pop up without overwhelming the person.

“It’s the first Apple product you look through and not at,” chief executive officer Tim Cook said during the presentation.

So far, investors are sceptical. After the shares climbed near-record levels on June 5, they slipped after the Vision Pro was announced. As of 3.50pm in New York, they were down more than 1% at US$179.06 .

Apple’s marketing prowess is unmatched, and it has convinced consumers to spend more and more on their smartphones, but this product may be one of its biggest challenge. Rival headsets cost as little as a few hundred dollars. A US$3,499 price would put the headset more in the realm of a high-end laptop than a gadget.

The company describes the new interface as “spatial computing”. A feature called EyeSight shows an image of your eyes on the outside of headset when people are nearby. The product also will show those people in your field of vision while you’re wearing the device, an attempt to keep users more engaged with the outside world.

A so-called digital crown - taking a term from the Apple Watch - switches the headset between augmented and virtual reality. Apple said it studied thousands of people’s heads to ensure the product would be comfortable and filed more than 5,000 patents.

Apple’s launch sets up a showdown with Meta Platforms Inc, which currently owns 81% of the VR headset market, according to Counterpoint Research. Apple expects to sell about 900,000 units of the Vision Pro in its first year, and - given its price tag - that could give the company a commanding share of the market. Still, those numbers would be a fraction of what its other devices generate.

Disney CEO Bob Iger also joined the presentation, saying that the Disney+ streaming service would be available for the device on the day it launches. Disney shares climbed less than 1% to US$91.36 .

“We believe Apple Vision Pro is a revolutionary platform that can make our vision a reality,” Iger said.

The headset’s debut served as the finale for a day of software and hardware announcements at WWDC, with Apple introducing new Macs and software for its major devices. But it was clear that Cook hoped to leave consumers with the Vision Pro on their minds - and that it would set the stage for something more.

Apple is already working on a lower-cost version on the headset, Bloomberg has reported, as well as an even more upscale version.

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

 - Bloomberg

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