Apple confirmed the acquisition last week of NextVR, a startup delivering sports-related VR content to a variety of headsets on the market. It’s not the tech giant’s first move in this nascent space: Last November, Apple revealed plans to have their combined VR/AR standalone headset ready around 2021 or 2022, with lightweight smartglasses rolling out a year later.
This is big news for the AR sector, where insiders ranked Apple third on a 2019 survey of most promising smartglasses models, despite there being little to no information on their actual plans aside from a ballpark launch year. With Magic Leap now pivoting away from consumers amid a massive restructuring, it’s a good time for Apple to ramp up efforts and add another wearable to their trophy shelf, following commanding leads in earbuds and smartwatches.
But Apple is promising much more than just high-tech glasses, as they intend for their combined VR/AR headset to serve as a competitor to the all-in-one Oculus Quest headset from Facebook. Released in 2019, the Quest shed itself of the clunky wire setups typically seen with VR, but all-in-one isn’t just a term used to imply an expedited installation–it also implies the consumer will save a lot of money.
While Sony’s PSVR headset still sells the most units, the fact that it requires a current-generation gaming console means you will be spending about double the $299 asking price if you don’t already own a PS4. Likewise, the PSVR’s competitors require you own certain brands of smartphones or PCs that can vary wildly in price, a discouraging catch to any family or newcomer looking to acquire their own headset after trying VR at a pop-up event or relative’s house.
The Quest headset has effectively solved this problem by containing every component necessary for smooth operation within the headset itself, which is why it came close to outselling the PSVR at the end of 2019. Give it a full year of sales, and Sony will have to offer far more than an exclusive “Iron Man” game to keep their headset relevant before they eventually update the model for the incoming PlayStation 5 console; they got the memo about the wires, at least.
If Apple can expand upon the the Quest’s all-in-one VR premise to offer an easy-to-use package that combines VR gaming with practical AR functions (in a post-COVID landscape, combining AR with virtual meetings may no longer induce eyerolls), this sector will finally stand the chance to be seen as more than a niche hobby for gamers and tech junkies to salivate over, and Apple will have yet another victory in wearables to boast.