June 05 / 2023

What Apple’s Vision Pro means for the future of XR

  • By Patrick O'Luanaigh, CEO of nDreams

So, it’s happened: Apple has unveiled its long-awaited first entry into the XR market. After weeks of media and industry speculation in the build-up to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote on 5th June, the announcement of Apple Vision Pro lit up the show and became the first public signal of Apple’s AR ambitions.

It’s a really significant moment for anyone working in XR, particularly those who have been working exclusively in the space since 2013 – a full decade this year – like nDreams.

The VR market is already incomparable to the new frontier we began exploring in 2013. We started working to create great, immersive experiences at a time when VR hardware meant Oculus DK1, Samsung Gear VR, and even Google Cardboard. It wasn’t always easy.

Now, we’re fortunate as an industry to have an addressable VR market of approximately 40 million (and growing), with several hit VR games selling in the millions and boasting large, engaged communities. We already have some hugely influential platform holders in VR, including Meta, Sony, and ByteDance.

At the recent PlayStation Showcase event, the likes of Metal Gear Solid, Spider-Man, and Street Fighter all featured. But on the same billing, plenty of brilliant PS VR2 games – including our very own Synapse – shared the spotlight.

Then, Meta announced that the Meta Quest 3 will be launching in 2023, and swiftly followed that announcement with a packed showcase of upcoming VR titles featuring Assassin’s Creed Nexus, PowerWash Simulator VR, Stranger Things VR, and Ghostbusters: Rise of the Ghost Lord.

Moments like this still feel hugely significant for XR, particularly for anyone who has been in it for as long as we have and can remember how different things once were.

So, there’s never been a more exciting moment for the VR games market than now. Meta Quest is already neck-and-neck with the current generation of Xbox (and positioned to accelerate ahead with Quest 3), and PS VR2 is already outselling its predecessor. In this context, the real significance of Apple’s announcement is that it provides further validation that the technology we’ve believed in for so long is becoming ever more mainstream and viable.

That word, validation, is the one that came up time and time again from the panel of VR industry experts I asked about Apple’s potential XR plans as part of my GDC talk earlier this year.

A spokesperson from one of the VR platform holders said that “competition is good for everyone, and another respected company entering the market signals a notable shift in sentiment towards VR.” Another industry insider claimed that Apple’s arrival in XR “could change everything, but particularly in the non-games VR space.”

This raises an important point: Apple is not entering the XR market just to shake up gaming, but with a more holistic future vision in the vein of its original iPhone announcement. Yes, the iPhone and its App Store transformed games, but it wasn’t purely a gaming device. Nor will this be – but that doesn’t mean its overall impact on the future of XR gaming won’t be profound in the fullness of time.

Something else that’s observable from the history of Apple products is that their first iterations do not tend to be the biggest sellers. Building a mass market audience for new hardware takes time, and this is true even of Apple. The iPod, iPhone, and Apple Watch are all examples of this, with their very first versions selling in smaller numbers, before later iterations really took off among mainstream consumers.

Of course, nobody really knows how Apple’s Vision Pro will perform. Perhaps it will buck the trend and immediately become a truly mainstream, mass-market device. But history would suggest that its performance will not be the ultimate decider of Apple’s long-term success in XR.

Regardless, the announcement of Vision Pro represents a major moment in the continuing growth of the XR market. I’ve been saying for a while that 2023 and 2024 will be milestone years for VR, and this is another massive step towards that being proven out.

From Meta Quest to PlayStation VR and Pico, nDreams has always passionately supported new VR hardware. A thriving ecosystem with multiple strong platforms is good for us, good for gamers, and ultimately good for every other platform with the exposure it brings to VR as a whole.

Many of us still look back on Steve Jobs’ 2007 keynote, in which he introduced the world to the first iPhone, as a landmark moment that would go on to massively impact the ways we communicate, play, create, and experience the world. Perhaps, one day, we will be looking back at 5th June 2023 in the same way.

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