Why Apple’s Rumored VR Headset Could Face Challenges

A $3,000 'Apple tax' might be too much

Key Takeaways

  • Apple will reportedly launch a $3,000 virtual reality headset next year. 
  • The headset will include powerful processors and advanced screen technology. 
  • Experts differ on whether the bells and whistles can justify the headset’s high price.
Someone wearing a VR headset reaching toward the camera.
Rebecca Nelson / Getty Images

Apple’s rumored upcoming virtual reality (VR) headset will have to deliver extraordinary new capabilities to justify its possible $3,000 price tag, experts say.

According to a recent Bloomberg report, the new VR headset could arrive as soon as next year, and include powerful processors and advanced screen technology. It’s going up against a range of current VR headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 that are winning praise from reviewers and cost a tenth the price. But Apple’s technological advantage could be a game-changer for users.

"The 8K display and the cameras, especially the pass-through ones, justify such a high price," Varag Gharibjanian, the chief revenue officer of virtual reality software firm Clay AIR, said in an email interview. "The display resolution and frame rate make an actual difference in VR, making the experience more immersive, realistic, and reducing the risk of nausea."

Higher Resolution, Faster Chips

Details on the rumored Apple device are vague, but enticing. According to Bloomberg, the headset will have faster chips than Apple’s latest M1 Mac processors. Very high-resolution displays also will sweeten the deal.

However, these top-end specs mean the headset will generate enough heat that it needs to use a fan, unlike existing products like those by Oculus.

Someone wearing a VR headset while recording a video.

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

But some observers say Apple’s 8K displays and other bells and whistles might not make enough of a difference for users to differentiate it from less-expensive options.

Antony Vitillo, a VR consultant and owner of the XR blog The Ghost Howls, said in an email interview that he’d tried the HP Reverb VR headset, which already features 2K x 2K resolution per eye. He said the resolution "was already big enough for the screen-door-effect (that is the fact that you can spot the pixels on the screen of a VR headset) [and it was] already almost nonexistent. 8K is not that better than what is already today on the market."

Vitillo said that Apple’s headset might make the most sense for professionals, rather than everyday users. "Mac laptops are used by artists and creative people, and if this headset carries with it an enhanced realism and some applications that empower the work of these kinds of people, it can justify its price," he added.

Voila, It’s AR, Too

One key feature of the Apple headset in addition to VR is that it also could have limited augmented reality (AR) capabilities, allowing users to view the real world while information is simultaneously displayed, according to Bloomberg.

"The passthrough camera is a critical differentiator," Gharibjanian said. "So far, no OEM on the consumer market has managed to bring high-quality AR and VR experiences in a single device, at the simple flip of a button. The versatility brought by the passthrough camera, if well done, is a real first-comer advantage that consumers will look for."

The display resolution and frame rate make an actual difference in VR, making the experience more immersive, realistic, and reducing the risk of nausea.

If the rumored specs prove accurate—that Apple’s headset will have 10-20 times the number of pixels as the Oculus Quest 2—Apple will rock the competition when it comes to pixels. It also will add another headset into the mixed reality (XR) realm, joining the only consumer device that currently offers the technology, the Valve Index.

"XR aficionados really like mixed reality features, but so far, it’s not functional," Gharibjanian said, adding that there are problems with delays, distortion, and low resolution.

But Gharibjanian said he's confident that Apple will overcome these technical challenges. "Apple has the advantage of being extremely integrated, and controls variables that can make a difference when building the form factor that will drive consumer adoption," he added.

There’s also the indefinable allure of Apple products that could make users flock to the headset no matter what the price. After all, Apple’s recently released AirPods Pro Max headphones were snapped up by early adopters despite their $549 price tag.

"Apple has shown in the past that they have the brand power and the ecosystem to appear much more attractive to consumers than competitors," Gharibjanian said. "Even with equivalent technical specs and features."

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