Apple sets new vision for future of computing & opens new opportunities for brands
Here’s what brand marketers need to know about Apple’s ground-breaking ‘spatial computing’ device, according to IPG Media Lab’s Richard Yao.
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On Monday, Apple unveiled its long-anticipated immersive headset device, Vision Pro, at its annual WWDC developer conference. The device, which resembles a futuristic set of ski goggles, allows users to view digital content on top of their surroundings and is controlled using voice, eye tracking and hand gestures.
In lieu of mentioning industry-standard terms like ‘mixed reality’ or ‘virtual reality,’ Apple executives repeatedly stressed the term ‘spatial computing,’ positioning the device as a paradigm-shifting successor in consumer technology to the mobile computing era that Apple kicked off with the iPhone. This positioning also indicates a desire to distance the device from in-market headsets like Meta’s Oculus or HTC Vive, which have been trying for years to make immersive headsets a mass consumer device in vain.
What sets Vision Pro apart from the in-market competitors is that it does not 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 – downplayed the 3D elements that typically dominate demos of mixed-reality headsets, focusing instead on the way that room-filling, adjustable 2D windows look in Vision Pro. Powering the Vision Pro is a brand 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 display different sports playing on ESPN, and 3D replays can show court details of a basketball game, for example.
While Meta’s Quest headsets have turned out to be, first and foremost, a gaming console, Apple mostly kept gaming out of the demo. Sure, there was a quick mention of Vision Pro being capable of playing Apple Arcade titles, but Vision Pro is not intended as an immersive gaming device, given the device’s lack of controllers (not to mention Apple’s weakness in triple-A gaming).
On the productivity side, Apple eagerly showcased how Vision Pro would be a device to replace multi-monitor workstations, capable of running various productivity and video-conferencing apps. Life-like virtual personas can be created via 3D scanning to represent users using Vision Pro for video calls, so that they still show up like themselves sans the headset.
And unlike its in-market competitors, Apple is not positioning Vision Pro as a consumer product, at least not yet. Retailing at $3,499, Apple is clearly targeting the enterprise market with this first version of the device. The early adopters will be the hardcore Apple fans and power users who are eager to replace physical screens with virtual ones. In the meantime, software developers will start to explore more consumer-friendly use cases beyond 2D media and work apps, likely in a similar trajectory of the App Store during the early days of the iPhone.
What Vision Pro means for marketers
This positioning means that, for brands and advertisers, Vision Pro will not become a mass platform at launch, or even within a few years. Realistically, it would take several iterations for Vision Pro to take over as the primary screen for media consumption and digital interactions. Its emphasis on enterprise use cases is also a double-edged sword in this regard, as it may spur adoption as a work device while alienating some prospective users looking for fun and escapism.
That said, Vision Pro still marks an important moment in consumer technology, as the most successful consumer technology company on earth is making a full-force push to shift at least part of our attention away from existing screens onto new, virtual environments. Although CEO Tim Cook called it “the first device you look through and not at," the reality that a user is looking at with Vision Pro is a real-time digital rendering of their surroundings that has been captured via front-facing cameras.
By focusing on 2D content at launch, Apple smartly ensured that Vision Pro is a device capable of its existing ecosystem of apps. However, it is capable of far more than just putting 2D virtual screens around a user‘s living room. Apple hinted at some more advanced features during the keynote that 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 life-like dinosaur popping out of the 2D frame and seemingly entering the room, in typical augmented reality fashion.
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Although Vision Pro won’t become available until early next year, there is still plenty for innovation-minded brands to do in preparation for its arrival. Branded assets need to be upgraded to 3D ones, and existing AR experiences should be converted into compatible formats.
Brands should work with developers to leverage new tools like Unity, whose 3D object format Vision Pro supports. They should also tap into Apple’s Reality Composer Pro developer kit to not only scale up existing mobile AR experiences to room-filling dimensions but to 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 is still very early days for Vision Pro, and what we don’t know vastly outnumbers what we do know. For example, part of the developer toolkit that Apple introduced for VisionOS is the VisionKit, which enables apps to identify objects in photos. Apple says VisionKit can identify ‘products,’ so there is a potential visual search opportunity for brand discovery and even AR shopping. However, without knowing how VisionKit differentiates between products or distinguishes between brands, it would be difficult to gauge how big the brand opportunity currently is. Smart brands will work closely with developers to keep up with the latest information as the headset becomes available.
When the iPhone was first introduced in 2007, few foresaw the revolutionary impact it would have on our media consumption and everyday life. By the early 2010s, however, every brand with enough foresight could see how vital mobile advertising and mobile commerce would become. Vision Pro is still half a year from its official release, but the race to figure out how to adapt brand experiences for the virtual screens and immersive environments has kicked off this week.
Richard Yao is associate director of strategy and content at IPG Media Lab.