According to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and many other influential names in the Apple pundit sphere, the company has come a long way in developing a so-called mixed reality headset – in other words, a VR headset that can also blend in AR elements drawn from the outside world.
There have been reports that the headset will be a foretaste of future AR glasses, and that it is a premium product that will cost thousands. Gurman has repeatedly made claims that high-end gaming is an important part of Apple’s venture. But there’s something off.
Apple and gaming – seriously?
Apple has never taken gaming seriously, or given gamers its full respect. The company seems to be genetically conditioned to see games as mere pastimes, as something puerile. Apple Arcade feels reasonably successful precisely because it has a focus on families with children: it’s a way to get away from the poor-quality, exploitative freemium games on iOS rather than an alternative to game consoles.
So why would Apple now suddenly have the idea of taking games not just seriously, but so seriously that it wants to invest huge resources in developing a niche product like an AR/VR headset – which is only likely to be bought by a fraction of all iPhone and Mac users? I have a very hard time with the logic of that proposition.
What’s more, we haven’t heard a single rumour of any collaborations with major game studios, something that is obviously a must for such a gaming platform to take off. Nintendo is literally the only company capable of supplying its own platform with enough games to attract a wide audience.
And besides – a broad audience is Apple’s bag. The iPhone has given Apple a taste of world domination. It’s hardly a coincidence that the company seems curious about the car market, which also attracts huge potential sales. But mixed-reality headsets? There’s no reason to believe it will ever be anything but a niche.
Apple’s last venture into a niche market, the HomePod… well, we know how that went. And the HomePod cost a fraction of what the rumoured headset will go for.
The wrong audience
I’ve begun to think that the theories surrounding the Apple headset rumours have one key flawed assumption: that the target audience is consumers. Rumours of high-end VR gaming envision Apple’s headset primarily as a competitor to Facebook’s Oculus, but what if Apple has something else in mind?
Instead of consumers, Apple might want to create a new tool for creation. A tool for game developers, 3D graphic artists, audiovisual artists, filmmakers and other creative types.
Today, it’s virtually impossible to use a Mac to create VR experiences and VR games. But a dedicated headset could make this much more feasible.
Apple has made no secret of the fact that it sees AR as an important future technology, and the rumours of AR glasses coming in a few years’ time seem much more plausible as a new category of consumer technology. But for a future with AR around us, content is needed. Good content. Lots of content. Who’s going to create it, and why does it need to be created on Windows?
If the target audience for Apple’s mixed-reality headset is creative professionals, that would explain both why the company would invest in something that has so few potential customers, and what the point of it really is. Apple has a clear strategy to be “premium for the masses” with its consumer products. It’s not in the company’s interest or nature to suddenly put resources into a product category that is essentially a niche.
But a headset that makes it easy to start creating content for the future AR world? That seems like something Apple would be comfortable with.
This article originally appeared on Macworld Sweden. Translation (using DeepL) and additional reporting by David Price. Main image is a concept illustration by Antonio de Rosa.