Apple's mixed reality headset is in a bit of a mess. Or its AR/VR headset. Or you can call it the Reality Pro if you like. But whatever you call it, it seems to be a product without a market. And that's causing Apple problems even before it goes on sale.
We've been hearing rumors on top of rumors for what feels like forever now. For months we've been told to expect Apple to unveil the headset at its annual developer conference, WWDC. Now that we know for sure that WWDC23 will kick off on June 5, we're being told that might not happen after all.
And you know what? That's absolutely fine with me.
The latest report comes from the usually-reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo who says that Apple "isn't very optimistic about the AR/MR headset announcement." If you're Apple, that isn't where you want to be going into what could be your biggest product launch since the Apple Watch in 2015.
Kuo goes on to say that Apple is worried that the headset won't create its next "iPhone moment," an observation that seems to have legs. We've heard recently of Apple employees being concerned that the headset either isn't ready or that we as customers might not be ready for it. Whichever it is, neither prospect is a promising one.
The Kuo report continues, saying that Apple has pushed back its mass production plans by a couple of months, possibly throwing that WWDC unveiling into doubt. It always seemed unlikely that Apple would make the headset available immediately, so that might not be an issue. Apple can give developers time to build the apps that will power this thing.
Reality Pro has some very real problems before it even launches, though. Ignoring the fact that Apple might not be sold on its own product, there's the price. At $3,000 it's a hard sell at the best of times. In the middle of global financial uncertainty, it's a non-starter for many. And that's before you remember that nobody seems to be shouting about any real need for the headset in the first place.
It might be different if everyone wanted Reality Pro but couldn't afford it. That creates buzz. But as Kuo says, the reception has so far been lukewarm at least.
"The main concerns for Apple not being very optimistic regarding the market feedback to the AR/MR headset announcement include the economic downturn, compromises on some hardware specifications," Kuo says.
Who is Reality Pro for, exactly?
At this point, it still isn't clear who Apple will market Reality Pro to. At $3,000 it isn't going to be for the larger iPhone-buying public. Even those who buy the best iPhone every year are going to balk at that price — trust me, I'm one of them.
Rumors have so far said that Apple will aim for retail experiences, but it's far from clear what that will look like or whether it's enough to make the project viable.
In reality, is this headset something Apple is best repurposing for product demonstrations in Apple Stores? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we'll know more when we actually see what this thing is.
Maybe, once Tim Cook or whoever takes to the stage and shows what Reality Pro can do, it'll all click and we'll be scrambling down the back of the sofa to scrape that $3,000 together.
Or maybe we won't.
The next AirPower?
With that all said, is it time that Apple cut its losses? Or at least, as we've been told might be the case with the AirPower charging pad, time to pause everything until a better time.
That time could be when technology gets cheaper. Or Apple can improve the rumored two-hour battery life. Or, who knows, when people can actually see a use for it.
Apple has no qualms about canceling a product, or at least delaying it until it is fully confident in what it's about to ship. We've seen that in the aforementioned AirPower. And this is Apple, let's remember. Not a startup that needs to get something onto store shelves to pay the bills. It isn't a company struggling to keep its head above water, looking for that next big thing, either.
Sure, its other products could always use a boost and services might not always be the cash cow they are. But does Apple need to bet on something like this?
The Apple of 25 years ago, perhaps.
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Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.
Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.