VR Headsets Don’t Sell Well. Sony and Apple May Not Change That

Woman wearing VR headset
VIP+; Adobe Stock

Despite all the talk about the metaverse in 2022, the VR headsets intended to be the window into this budding 3D world actually lost momentum last year. In December, headset tracker IDC projected the totality of 2022 shipments would dip 12.8% from 2021 but bounce back significantly and consistently from this year onward.

The impending return of Sony and potential entry of Apple into the headset business in 2023 would seem to be just what’s necessary to revitalize the category. But that’s not necessarily a given, as incumbent category leader Meta Platforms seems to be more focused on the high end of the market with its expensive Quest Pro product, while Apple doesn’t typically target the low end with any of its products.

Sony could also see its PlayStation VR 2 find a limited audience because of accessibility requirements. During a year when inflation could dull consumer appetites for pricey devices in general, don’t be surprised if the rebound projected for this category ends up fairly muted as the cheaper range of products where Meta made its breakthrough gets ignored.

But the big question mark is Apple. Reports indicate an overdue mixed-reality headset from Apple is due to be announced in the spring and shipped later in 2023. Allegedly called “Reality Pro,” this product puts Apple in direct competition with Meta Platforms.

Despite Meta’s difficulties on Wall Street as its Reality Labs division bleeds money, it doesn’t change the fact that the VR space has been dominated by Meta since its Quest 2 headset hit the market in 2020 and quickly overcame 2016’s PlayStation VR shipments.

As the February release of Sony’s new PlayStation VR 2 headset approaches, the near disappearance of new PSVR shipments after 2020 laid out some tough lessons regarding the advent of VR and how its upfront cost and access requirements remain a difficult hurdle for companies to overcome.

While the PSVR2 has more built-in features meant to expedite the setup of its headset for consumers — only one cord needs to be plugged into the PlayStation 5 console versus a messy array of cords and connections for the first PSVR — Meta still offers a fully wireless VR experience.

On top of that, the presence of PlayStation 5 in the process still complicates the overall sell of PSVR 2, as both systems are pricey but necessary to access Sony’s exclusive VR offerings and wider library of third-party games, many of which are also accessible through Meta’s storefront.

Selling for as low as $400, Meta Quest 2 remains a far cheaper option than the $550 entry point for PSVR 2. When you add PS5 to the equation, the cost of entry shoots up to as much as $1,050 in North America or more if you’re buying elsewhere in the world, per recent price hikes Sony implemented.

Sony’s edge over Meta here beyond exclusive gaming experiences like “Horizon: Call of the Mountain” is that the PSVR 2, even with an adjoining PS5 system, is still cheaper than Meta’s own technically advanced headset upgrade via the Quest Pro, which launched in October 2022 at $1,500 per headset.

While PSVR 2 is a headset for the gaming market, the Quest Pro was launched alongside a bevy of partnerships meant to turn the headset into a tool as much as gaming hardware. Compatibility with Microsoft 365, Office and Teams, as well as additional access to the Xbox Game Pass library, show a Meta that is acting aggressively when it comes to defending its turf, even if it is simultaneously upping the cost of entry to its newer VR offering to its own detriment, potentially.

It remains anyone’s guess as to how Apple can disrupt this competition, if at all. But it should help that Apple isn’t reportedly treating its big VR entrance as a niche offshoot. Instead, Apple is making its Reality Pro offering the focus of its 2023, as opposed to its MacBook, Watch, TV or iPad products. Its purported status as a mixed-reality headset also means its visual features will extend to one’s physical surroundings as seen through the headset, rather than be fully confined to a computer-generated interior panel.

Additionally, Apple is the proprietor of the iPhone. Whatever its actual features are, it’s difficult to imagine Reality Pro won’t sport a variety of ways to integrate into the billion-plus active iPhones spread across the globe, an accessibility edge Apple would be foolish to ignore if it wants to drive a dent into Meta’s market share.

As for cost, Apple already offers monthly payment plans for its own pricey hardware, so it isn’t out of the question to expect a similar plan won’t be implemented to lower the access threshold and boost Reality Pro’s chances at widespread adoption.

Meta may have broken the ground it did at the turn of the decade when it was still known as Facebook. Sony and Apple are poised to eat into that market share this year, but how price-sensitive consumers are will determine just how much ground they gain on Meta.