Ross Anderson

Can Apple make virtual reality relevant?

  • From Spectator Life
(Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Apple unveiled their latest product: the Vision Pro ultra-premium mixed reality headset. It’s sleek, advanced and luxurious, powered by Apple’s class-leading M2 and R1 chips, running their new VisionOS operating system, and built with a blend of glass, aluminium and plush fabric.

Seven years after that messy launch, the Watch division made Apple $41 billion last year

Put simply: it’s the world’s most technically advanced pair of ski goggles. With dual ultra-high-resolution screens, five sensors, and 12 cameras, it can pull you into virtual worlds of unprecedented fidelity or – with a turn of a dial – project digital objects, tools, screens and notifications onto the world around you. It’s the most advanced, stylish, consumer-mixed-reality headset ever made, and pretty damn cool, but priced accordingly. It starts at $3,499 (£2,814) and releases next year.

For many, virtual reality (VR) headsets just seem like a toy. But for Apple, this is no joke. It’s the first big, new category of product since 2015’s Apple Watch, the first new computing platform for the company since Steve Jobs died, and the finale of five years of careful plotting, as Apple tried to cripple the VR industry leader, Meta.

In 2019, Apple put up big black billboards asserting its belief in the importance of privacy, and the tight-lipped Cook did a flurry of interviews, complaining about how his Big Tech peers – notably Facebook – made billions through their aggressive ad tech programs. How altruistic of him to warn us! In 2021, Apple dialled up the tension with its ‘Ad Tracking Transparency’ feature, which limited third parties from accessing Apple user data. This torpedoed Meta’s ad revenue, costing the company an estimated $10 billion in 2022 and tearing down their stock by 70 per cent over the following year, while Apple simultaneously built one of the fastest growing ad-networks in the world, anchored on their (new) monopoly on Apple user data.

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