Gaining a clearer view of Apple's headset

Gaining a clearer view of Apple's headset

The product launch in the US has some onlookers agog, but with a steep price it will take a while to catch on

TECH
Gaining a clearer view of Apple's headset
A customer uses Apple's Vision Pro headset at the Apple Fifth Avenue store in New York City on Feb 2, 2024. (Photo: Reuters)

The Apple Vision Pro headset launch in the US last week stirred public attention worldwide, particularly among those waiting to see how the evolution of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) could change lifestyles.

With a hefty price tag of US$3,499 (124,234 baht), early adopters may be limited when it becomes available in Thailand.

People may wait until there are more supportive factors to adopt the technology.

According to AFP, when ABC News asked Apple chief executive Tim Cook about the steep price, he said: "It's tomorrow's technology today. That's the way I think about it. Over time, who knows what will happen? But we think we priced it for the right value today."

Apple calls the Vision Pro a revolutionary spatial computer that transforms how people work, collaborate, connect, relive memories and enjoy entertainment.

According to Bloomberg, the headset gives Apple its first major new product category since 2015.

VR headsets have been a relatively niche market until now, with Meta Platforms dominating the industry. Apple hopes to use cutting-edge technology and the company's famous marketing muscle to turn it into something bigger.

Analysts estimate Apple sold roughly 180,000 Vision Pros during the pre-order period that began in mid-January.

Will it be available in Thailand soon?

According to Apple, the headset is only available for sale in the US at the moment.

The company said it looks forward to bringing the product to more countries later this year.

If a foreigner buys the headset in the US and tries to use it abroad, how does their experience differ from in the US?

According to Apple, the headset only supports US English for language and typing, and English for Siri and dictation.

Customers may not be able to access certain apps, features or content based on licensing or other restrictions in some countries or regions. In addition, Apple Support is only available in the US.

Paramate Rienjaroensuk, chief executive of Copperwired Co Ltd, an authorised Apple reseller, said the launch has been successful.

"It's something you can't compare with other VR headsets in the market," he said. "The device could create a massive new market in the future."

Dotlife, an IT gadget shop under the Copperwired group, is not carrying the Apple Vision Pro for sale now, as it waits until the gear will be fully functional in Thailand, said Mr Paramate.

Pawat Ruangdejworachai, chief executive of Media Intelligence Group Co, said the technology has a wow factor that will attract opinion leaders and those with high disposable income.

"This is the kind of device that can make a massive impact, depending on the price," he said.

Mr Cook compared the debut to the birth of Apple's other iconic devices, including the Mac, iPod and iPhone, telling Bloomberg it "joins the pantheon of groundbreaking products".

Does immersive technology matter to businesses in Thailand?

Teerasil Tapen, deputy governor for digital R&D at Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said the agency is monitoring the trend of using VR, AR and MR for tourism marketing since Meta Platforms, the parent of Facebook, announced it would create the metaverse.

Mr Teerasil said the price will be the decisive factor for consumers and organisations considering jumping into the virtual reality world.

He said TAT has conducted feasibility studies for years about using VR for tourism promotion, finding cooperation with partners to utilise immersive technology is preferred to going solo, which would require a tremendous budget.

"Instead of developing our own application designed for those devices, we'd rather partner with developers, such as game developers, to insert tourism content in their apps or games. This would be more effective and should save us budget resources," said Mr Teerasil.

He said it would be more interesting if future virtual games are specifically designed for VR headsets, as the agency could feature iconic attractions or destinations in Thailand as a backdrop or theme for games, translating to demand to travel to the actual site in the future.

Mr Teerasil said once people get used to this technology and the price becomes more affordable, the use of immersive technology should pick up quickly. The current target market is the high-end segment, he said.

"VR headset technology is a promising trend, but it is too soon to invest huge sums of money at this early stage due to limited market size," said Mr Teerasil.

However, he said both TAT and companies can rapidly adjust their plan if this technology becomes mainstream.

Olivier Berrivin, vice-president for Asia-Pacific at BWH Hotels, said regarding the immersive technology trend, the price remains too expensive for hotels to offer it to enhance guest experiences.

While demand for advanced technology grew during the pandemic, when face-to-face interaction was prohibited, hospitality remains a service industry that still requires a human touch, not merely automated services, said Mr Berrivin.

He said technological support may suit budget, economy and mid-scale hotels, appealing to younger generations who may opt for new experiences.

What changes could the technology bring?

According to Reuters, the Vision Pro could upend how people watch TV at home and use computers at work, potentially positioning the headset as a successor to both traditional TV and the Mac.

The headset, which blends 3D digital content with a view of the outside world, enters a market crowded with lower-cost rivals from Meta Platforms, HTC and others that have mostly been confined to video games and failed to find a mass audience.

Apple has had mixed results courting developers.

Netflix, a popular streaming app, recently said it is not developing a new app for the Vision Pro, though consumers can watch movies and series on the device's web browser.

The device comes with custom computing chips and difficult-to-manufacture displays that rivals lack.

Analysts who have tried the headset say these features could make the device a threat to almost every large 2D screen at home or work.

Walt Disney quietly worked with Apple for years on an app for the Vision Pro's launch, the latest in a history of collaboration between the two companies.

"When we saw this, it became evident it was a new canvas for how we can tell stories in a way that hasn't been done before," said Aaron LaBerge, chief technology officer of Disney Entertainment.

"It became pretty obvious we wanted to do something here just as a way to stretch ourselves."

What is the market?

In a note to investors, Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said Apple told its supply chain to expect to build only 1 million units, and even that might constitute preparing excess capacity ahead of consumer demand.

Apple's approach "suggests a lack of confidence that consumers will feel compelled to buy immediately without needing to be convinced by in-store demos," said Mr Sacconaghi.

But the high price presents less of a barrier to business purchasers.

Jay Wright, chief executive of Campfire, a startup that makes software for using headsets to collaborate remotely on 3D files such as engine designs, said the original Mac computer in 1984 cost the equivalent of nearly $7,500 now.

Small businesses flocked to the Mac for its ability to create and print documents and brochures.

"It's important to recognise this is not a consumer accessory, like the Apple Watch. This is a whole new computing platform," said Mr Wright.

"I'm of the opinion this is more like what comes after the Mac than what comes after the iPhone."

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