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Apple Vision Pro – a 1st for us all

After the wait and the hype Apple’s headset this week became a reality – what can we expect?

Apple Vision Pro

Apple said Vision Pro would be with us early this year – and they’ve been true to their word.

Pre-orders start Friday 19th January with the first orders ready to be collected in stores (in the U.S. only) from Friday 2nd February. No dates have been mentioned as to when other countries will be getting Vision Pro but it’s expected that China, Canada and the UK will be next in line.

The first question many of us had has now been answered – would there be a Vision Pro launch event? Well, we know now that there is no event which on the face of it seems odd – but pulling back the curtains it makes more sense than you may at first think.

At WWDC last summer Apple laid down their plans for Vision Pro. Of course, it’s the most exciting new product category from Apple in nearly a decade – but there is not that much more to say about it right now. By its nature, it’s going to be a low-volume, niche product and as such this will be almost a soft launch.

I think it’s fair to say that these first Apple Vision Pro headsets with visionOS 1.0 will be testing the water. There won’t be that many apps available at launch either and it’s probably better PR that they ship an almost slimmed-down simplified version of the headset that at least performs glitch-free rather than waiting longer to ship with loads of apps that haven’t been fully tested – there will be too many people waiting for this product to fail – so it’s way better for Apple to get good rather than bad press at launch.

At WWDC there was no mention of fitness apps for Visio Pro and it looks like gaming will be limited to only a few titles at launch which we’d always expected to be front and centre to spatial experience – so with two of the headline areas initially either thin on the ground or missing entirley it makes total sense that Apple has decided that the launch didn’t warrant a full-blown event.

In a sense, Apple has decided to leak the Vision Pro headsets out of the back door to the market rather than an all-guns-blazing approach.

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Apple Vision Pro – what next

The first thing that comes to mind is the retail experience – it will be like nothing before.

Buying your Vision Pro is going to be a pretty complicated affair – particularly if you need prescription inserts. There had been early speculation that you’d be able to buy the headset online with rumours of a portal that would measure your face to ensure a perfect fit – but those stories seemed to have died a death now and it seems way more likely that you’ll simply be able to reserve your fitting appointment online but that all purchases will have to be made in-store.

So then you have to wonder how the stores will cope. They don’t know quite what to expect when customers start arriving for fittings – even though every effort is being made to prepare them as best as possible.

We know two key employees from each U.S. store have been sent to Cupertino for training with the idea being that they will then go back and train other team members in their stores.

And just after the pre-order date, every store will have an almost unheard of 3-hour intensive training session for every member of staff. Inventory will then start to arrive and store display areas set up and ready for launch day.

But will queues be snaking around the corner of Apple Stores for Vision Pro on 2nd February? You like me are not the typical member of the public. To us, this launch is massive news, but to the average Joe arriving in-store to get a new screen on their iPhone or have a problem sorted out on their Mac, these goggles could easily be news to them.

Via a blog post staff have been warned against describing the Vision Pro app experience as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), extended reality (XR), or mixed reality (MR) instead of being told it must be referred to as spatial computing.

Flesh on the bone

This week we learned a few more details about what to expect when Vision Pro starts to land.

There will be 256 GB of storage and both headbands will be included as standard. Video playback as expected will be between 2 – 2.5 hours and they are even throwing in a free $19 polishing cloth – no, I’m not kidding!

I mentioned prescription lenses earlier – we now also have prices for those. The Zeiss reading inserts will cost an extra $99 and the general ones $150. The fitting experience from the face light shield to the inserts will be critical to the headset performance and therefore cannot be rushed – and I guess this is where the in-store backlogs could occur.

I mentioned that volumes will be low. Apple forecasts that approximately 500,000 units will be shipped to stores this year. If we took only the 273 U.S. stores into account that works out to only 1800’ish units per store for the year which works out to only about 4 or 5 sets of Vision Pro per day being sold at best. And due to the nature of the tech of the Sony lenses, it doesn’t look likely that the volumes will escalate particularly quickly.

For the staff in Apple’s stores that may well be a blessing in disguise – we’ll soon see how ready they are for this new dawn in Apple’s history I guess.

History is our teacher

Much like with PCs the uptick for Apple Vision Pro may be slow – it’s got a lot of hurdles to overcome. We have to learn an entirely new way of interacting with our tech.

PCs sold in fairly small numbers in ’79. By 1985 the picture was much stronger and by the early 90s, they were common in many homes and on most desks at work – and that could well be what happens with Vision Pro.

Last year Apple launched a slew of products in January which isn’t going to be repeated this year and with no Visio Pro event, it looks pretty likely that we won’t get any Apple events until the spring. As big a deal as Vision Pro is – and make no mistake, this is a historic and momentous moment in time, in general, it’s going to be a slow start to the year for Apple.

Worryingly for them, financial results haven’t been too clever recently and it is forecast they could soon report their fifth straight quarter of a downturn in sales – and Vision Pro isn’t likely to be setting the tills alight – even with its $3499 price tag.

Ironically although 2024 marks a huge achievement for Apple it could be an oddly quiet and anxious year.

The focus will be on Vision Pro as it’s going to be the poster boy for the company this year. The slow and cautious release of the headset reflects the mood at Apple – while so much rests on this new product, they are more than aware that they need their core products – the iPhone 15, MacBooks and iPad to start to pick up some slack.

The company is clearly in no danger but the bigger you get the harder the fall. Wall Street and shareholders will be keeping a close eye on events over the next few months.

But say what you will, Apple is back to doing what it should be doing – innovating. No one else could have got Vision Pro to market – Steve Jobs I reckon would be pretty proud of what is going on right now.

It isn’t always about sales – sometimes it’s more about not being afraid to be different from the crowd.

And with Vision Pro, they have surely done that.

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