If the past is any predictor, soon we’ll all be wearing computers on our faces.
Apple’s biggest new hardware launch in decades happened on Feb. 2 when the Vision Pro spatial computer hit the U.S. market. Based on the reported pre-order sales and the company’s history of hardware hits, there are plenty of reasons for metaverse aficionados to be optimistic for the future.
The Apple Vision Pro is a spatial computing device that takes the form of an augmented reality headset. Not to be confused with virtual reality, the Vision Pro gives users a view of the world outside of their headset and then overlays that reality with digital imagery. Essentially, it turns the physical world into your computer desktop.
Spatial computing, not VR
The distinction between spatial computing and virtual reality is an important one. Despite positive gaming sales and steady enterprise adoption, virtual reality hasn’t managed to grab a foothold in the mainstream consumer market.
This isn’t surprising. As numerous analysts have noted over the past five years, a significant portion of the population experiences “VR sickness” when using VR hardware. And even some of the most seasoned VR reviewers have reported disorientation or queasiness from time to time.
Spatial computing has, so far, proven more universally comfortable. Instead of immersing wearers in a virtual space, it uses cameras to display the space they’re currently in. Because of this, users are less isolated from their surroundings, able to interact with other people, and safer as they can see and avoid obstacles in the real world while wearing the headset.
This could make for an easier onramp to adoption for Apple than VR manufacturers have had. And, if the major players in the metaverse space can imagine its future in augmented reality instead of virtual reality, we could be in the midst of the next major paradigm shift in tech hardware.
Remember the iPhone
The iPhone is, arguably, the most successful piece of consumer technology of the 21st century. Its launch drove Apple, a company which at the time relied on cash injections from the likes of Microsoft to stay afloat, to become the most valuable company in the world for several years running.
At launch, in 2007, the iPhone cost the equivalent of a little more than $700 in 2024. Apple sold just 270,000 units in the U.S. in its first week.
The Apple Vision Pro, on the other hand, costs five times as much today ($3,499) and, while first week sales aren’t out yet, as of the time of this article’s publication, pre-orders reportedly exceeded 200,000.
Going back to the iPhone, Apple sold just 1.4 million iPhones in 2007 generating revenue of about $630 million. By 2021, however, iPhone sales alone generated nearly $200 billion in revenue for the company.
It might seem silly to imagine wearing a computer on your face at work or in public, but it’s worth remembering that many pundits predicted touchscreen phones would fail. The general thinking then was that consumers would never give up the tactile feel of typing out our texts on real buttons for tapping on glass.
Today, it’s hard to imagine a world where everyone is walking around with a computer on their faces — even if it is an augmented reality headset. But, back in 2007, it would have been impossible to predict a future where people spent vast swathes of their time staring at their phone screens, even at public events.
Augmented reality headsets could actually bring us closer together again. Instead of staring at our screens, we could be looking at the world around us through our headsets and overlaying useful information as we need it.
We can have face-to-face discussions featuring multimedia graphics without having to keep looking away from each other to stare at a screen.
And, thanks to the magic of cameras, AI, and augmented reality, we can even make eye contact with other people wearing computers on their faces too.