Here’s what brand marketers need to know about Apple’s pioneering “spatial computing” device, according to IPG Media Labs’ Richard Yao.
On Monday, Apple unveiled its long-awaited immersive headset device, the Vision Pro, at its annual WWDC developer conference. Resembling a futuristic set of ski goggles, the device allows users to view digital content on top of their surroundings and is controlled using voice, eye tracking and hand gestures.
Instead of citing industry-standard terms like “mixed reality” or “virtual reality,” Apple executives repeatedly emphasized the term “spatial computing,” positioning the device as a paradigm-shifting successor in consumer technology to the mobile computing era that Apple ushered in. off with iPhone. This positioning also indicates a desire to distance the device from headsets on the market such as Meta’s Oculus or HTC Vive, which have tried in vain to make immersive headsets a mass consumer device.
What sets the Vision Pro apart from its competitors on the market is that it doesn’t try to replace the smartphone. Instead, the headset is designed to replace traditional monitors and TVs with portable, immersive virtual screens. At launch, Apple—perhaps intentionally—toned down the 3D elements that typically dominate mixed-reality headset demos, focusing instead on how room-filling, adjustable 2D windows look in Vision Pro. Powering the Vision Pro is an all-new operating system called VisionOS, which Apple designed from the ground up specifically for spatial computing.
The primary use cases showcased during the keynote are home entertainment and productivity. On the entertainment side, Apple invited Disney CEO Bob Iger to join the keynote to announce a partnership between the two companies to create immersive content and experiences for Vision Pro — multiple screens can show different sports being played on ESPN, and 3D replays can show track details. for example a basketball game.
While Meta’s Quest headset has been shown to be a gaming console first and foremost, Apple mostly kept gaming out of the demo. Sure, it was quickly mentioned that the Vision Pro can play Apple Arcade titles, but the Vision Pro isn’t intended as an immersive gaming device, given the device’s lack of controls (not to mention Apple’s weakness in triple-A games).
On the productivity side, Apple eagerly showed how the Vision Pro would be a device to replace multi-monitor workstations, capable of running various productivity and video conferencing apps. Lifelike virtual personalities can be created via 3D scanning to represent users using Vision Pro for video calls, so they still appear as themselves without the headset.
And unlike its competitors in the market, Apple is not positioning the Vision Pro as a consumer product, at least not yet. Retailing for $3,499, Apple is clearly targeting the enterprise market with this first version of the device. The early adopters will be die-hard Apple fans and power users eager to replace physical screens with virtual ones. Meanwhile, software developers will begin to explore more consumer-friendly use cases beyond 2D media and work apps, likely in a similar trajectory to the App Store in the iPhone’s early days.
What Vision Pro means for marketers
This positioning means that Vision Pro, for brands and advertisers, will not become a mass platform at launch, or even within a few years. Realistically, it would take several iterations for the Vision Pro to take over as the primary screen for media consumption and digital interaction. Its emphasis on enterprise use cases is also a double-edged sword in this regard, as it can spur adoption as a work unit while alienating some potential users looking for fun and escapism.
That said, the Vision Pro still marks an important moment in consumer technology, as the most successful consumer technology company on earth makes a full-scale effort to shift at least some of our attention away from existing screens and into new, virtual environments. Although CEO Tim Cook called it “the first device you look through and not at,” the reality a user views with Vision Pro is a real-time digital rendering of their surroundings captured via front-facing cameras.
By focusing on 2D content at launch, Apple smartly ensured that the Vision Pro is a device that can handle its existing ecosystem of apps. However, it can do much more than just place virtual 2D screens around a user’s living room. Apple hinted at some more advanced features during the keynote, which showed how Vision Pro enables users to interact with 3D objects and AR overlays, which were briefly shown in a montage of developer demos. One of them showed a lifelike dinosaur jumping out of the 2D frame and seemingly entering the room, in typical augmented reality fashion.
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Although Vision Pro won’t be available until early next year, there’s still plenty for innovation-minded brands to do before its arrival. Brand assets need to be upgraded to 3D assets and existing AR experiences should be converted to compatible formats.
Brands should work with developers to leverage new tools like Unity, whose 3D object formats Vision Pro supports. They should also leverage Apple’s Reality Composer Pro developer kit to not only scale up existing mobile AR experiences to room-filling dimensions, but also create new VisionOS native ones that take into account new user interface features, such as eye-tracking and hand gesture control.
Of course, it’s still very early days for Vision Pro, and what we don’t know is far more than what we do know. For example, part of the developer tools Apple introduced for VisionOS is VisionKit, which enables apps to identify objects in photos. Apple says VisionKit can identify “products,” so there’s a potential visual search opportunity for brand discovery and even AR shopping. However, without knowing how VisionKit differentiates between products or differentiates between brands, it would be difficult to assess the size of the branding opportunity at this time. Smart brands will work closely with developers to stay up to date with the latest information as the headset becomes available.
When the iPhone was first introduced in 2007, few anticipated the revolutionary impact it would have on our media consumption and everyday life. In the early 2010s, however, any brand with enough foresight could see how important mobile advertising and mobile commerce would become. Vision Pro is still six months away from its official release, but the race to figure out how to customize brand experiences for the virtual screens and immersive environments has started this week.
Richard Yao is Associate Director of Strategy and Content at IPG Media Lab.
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