These two products expanded VR gaming to millions of people, with one particular Quest remake becoming the most popular item for Christmas 2021.
But the increase in users brought some inevitable problems to the fore.
Most obviously, children shouldn’t be using stereoscopic VR due to the potential damage to their vision (or, at least, the lack of definitive evidence to the contrary). Most headphones are also too uncomfortable for long-term wear, trapping heat and moisture from the wearer’s face and adding weight to the head. Some users even proved to be allergic to the foam used in the Quest 2.
Every headset manufacturer has struggled to account for every possible head or face shape, pupillary distance, and vision difference, which means some people just can’t wear them without pain. Some models fit over glasses, but certain types of lenses work better than others, while people with astigmatism tend to have trouble with all headsets regardless.
And then there’s VR sickness, caused by the disconnect between what you’re seeing and hearing versus all your other senses, which affects each person differently.
By contrast, 10 years after the launch of the first smartphone, the category was quite mature; Primitive compared to the devices we have today, obviously, but they didn’t hurt people.
A central engineering hurdle with headsets is that we don’t yet have the technology to make things substantially more comfortable, realistic, or intuitive without the unwanted trade-offs like high prices, bulky external batteries, extra weight, or too much heat. goal has spent billions on prototype headphones with brighter, sharper or multifocal screens, but it could be many years before they are affordable and fit the human head.
Reports indicate that the initial version of Apple will put some components in a separate box that you will keep in your pocket, tied to your head with a cable.
Augmented reality headsets alone, including Google Glass, have been able to get much smaller and more comfortable. But integrating the technology into a VR headset typically means external cameras send a 3D feed of the outside world to a user, which brings its own problems, including an impact on the user’s ability to be spatially aware.
Another question is whether the consumer appetite is really there. Sony’s recently released PlayStation VR 2, which is far more capable than its predecessor, has reportedly fallen well short of sales expectations, with only a few hundred thousand units sold. Meanwhile, Meta’s Quest Pro, an attempt to woo commercial customers into their dream of a metaverse future, also failed.
A key concern here, and one that is likely to be the subject of heated discussions within Apple, is that the mixed reality headset’s value proposition is still unclear. Some people really like to play video games with eye gaze and hand gestures instead of a TV and controller, but the argument for everyone else is based on speculation about the future.
Meta envisions a persistent digital reality that exists alongside the real world, that people will want to dive in and out of throughout the day. Many others see a hybrid work future where geographically separated colleagues will feel like they are together in an office or meeting room. Some even imagine that a person can share their perspective with their loved ones when they are apart, for example, by beaming their vision of a vacation directly into another person’s eyes.
But none of this exists yet, and neither does the technology to create it.
If Apple’s goal is to have headphones that allow people to feel closer to each other over distance, it could release a headset five or 10 years before that’s possible. Meanwhile, you’ll also need to solve the problems of making the product comfortable, adaptable, and affordable.
Given the company’s AR output to date, an Apple headset could immediately start overlaying digital information onto the real world, including walking directions, real-time measurements, text translation, accessibility tags, games, and more. but at an expected retail price of over $4,000, it’s going to be hard to convince people that it’s better than just seeing that information on their phones.
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