- Apple is widely rumored to be releasing augmented-reality/virtual-reality glasses in 2023.
- It needs another hit product. But AR/VR glasses have struggled with consumers.
- Apple will likely not succeed in this market, either. Here’s why.
With the market for smartphones well-saturated, Apple needs to look to new markets for its next big thing.
While the iPod led to the iPhone, as I previously wrote, Apple’s most recent products, like Watch or AirPods, are nice, high-margin additions to sell to iPhone users. But they are much like ordering fries and a drink to go with a burger. They don’t create an ecosystem that Apple can grow. They rely on the iPhone’s ecosystem.
It has long been rumored that Apple will create a car to take on the likes of Tesla. That would be an example of a new market for Apple. But I don’t think an Apple car is going to happen, and that’s a topic for another time.
What does seem likely is that Apple will release augmented-reality/virtual-reality glasses, rumored to be coming in 2023 with an OS called xrOS.
While I’m always excited to see what innovations companies like Apple have in store, I have some serious concerns about betting on AR/VR glasses as a growth market.
We’ve already seen some attempts in this space, including Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap. They have not exactly taken the world by storm. When was the last time you or anyone you know saw someone using those devices at their places of work or out in the wild? Glass from Google, I think it’s safe to say, was a failure. And Snapchat’s Spectacles are not even for sale to the general public, the company’s website says, only to developers.
Then there are VR products like Oculus from Meta and competitors from Valve, Sony, and HP. These have made some inroads with gamers, but years after they were introduced, they’re still a small fraction of the enormous video-gaming market.
As for other uses? We have, so far, seen none, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s die-hard belief that the metaverse is the future of our social lives and work meetings and whatnot.
There is a belief, however, that Apple — which isn’t usually first to market — can enter a space and succeed where no one has before.
When it comes to this market, I’m more than a little skeptical. First and foremost, the battery life of an AR device is a major concern. AR, as Google Glass and Snapchat Spectacles envisioned it, is meant to be worn for long periods of time and superimpose digital imagery and functions onto the real world.
While Apple has not released specifications on this front (or any other), it seems highly unlikely that any device in this category will work for extended periods without recharging. Plus, despite all the ways that Apple is a leader in elegant hardware design, battery life is not really its strong point. (In the world of smartwatches, for example, some Garmin devices last as long as two weeks, reviewers found, while an Apple Watch, in my experience, gives a user two or three days.)
There’s also the question of comfort. Glasses are not the most comfortable things to wear for extended periods of time. And when you add the weight and bulk of the technology needed for AR and VR, eyewear like this become more uncomfortable to wear.
This is not to mention the fact that many people simply do not like wearing glasses at all, which will limit the market for these products.
Price is another major issue. Microsoft’s HoloLens costs between $3,500 and $5,200. Apple’s device is widely expected to be in the $1,000 to $1,500 price range, even though Apple is known for selling premium devices with premium price tags. But even on the low end, that’s a significant investment for a product that will do far less than a comparably priced MacBook or iPad.
Beyond the practical concerns of battery life, comfort, and price, there’s the fundamental issue of the lack of a compelling use case for AR or VR glasses.
While these technologies have some exciting potential, it is not yet clear, beyond certain types of video games, what the killer app will be to make them a must-have for consumers.
All that is to say, while Apple’s AR/VR project may be interesting to die-hard Apple fans and tech enthusiasts who buy into Apple’s marketing machine and wait in lines to buy its products on day one, I don’t believe it’s the company’s next big thing.
Until Apple, or any other company, can demonstrate a truly compelling reason for large numbers of people to want to wear AR around, or add VR to their quiver of home-entertainment options, I fear that the tech will struggle to gain widespread adoption. There is a reason Oculus devices have created a category known as “closetware,” a gadget that winds up stored and forgotten somewhere in a closet.
Michael Gartenberg is a former senior marketing executive at Apple and has covered the company for more than two decades as a market-research analyst at Gartner, Jupiter Research, and Altimeter Group. He is also an Apple shareholder. He can be reached on Twitter at @Gartenberg.
The thoughts expressed are those of the author.