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Vision Pro: Apple unveils its first virtual and augmented reality headset

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The American multinational company Apple is embarking on a nascent field where its competitors have so far failed to seduce consumers. After years of hype, Apple on Monday unveiled its highly anticipated mixed reality headset, the Vision Pro, the tech giant’s first major new product since 2015’s Apple Watch.

Equipped with cameras and sensors, the new device looks like a pair of futuristic ski goggles, and can immerse its user in virtual reality, but also integrate real-world elements for augmented reality. It will cost $3,499 and will be available “early next year,” first in the United States, and later in France and other countries.

“It’s a day we’ve been waiting for years,” said CEO Tim Cook, who announced the new product at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2023, which was held at the Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, California. “I think augmented reality is a deep technology.”

The headset, which Apple calls a “space computer,” contains two displays with a total of 23 million pixels, plus a cord that connects the glasses to a battery that slips into a pocket (which can power up to two hours of use). . A dial on the side, similar to the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown, allows the user to move from one level of immersion to the next. The device is powered by Apple’s custom-designed M2 chip, along with a new processor called R1, which helps make experiences more realistic.

When the user puts on the headset, they see a field of application icons in front of them. He can switch from complete immersion to seeing other people in normal surroundings, while allowing people to see his eyes through the eyeglass lens. The device is controlled by eye contact and hand gestures to select or swipe, and has a virtual keyboard and dictation for typing.

Apple also said that the screen size can be customized, making it possible to FaceTime video chat with people at full size or provide a more immersive gaming experience. The 3D camera allows users to take 3D photos and videos. And to go even further than Face ID, Apple introduced OptoID, which authenticates users using their irises. The company stated that eye tracking within the device will remain private and will not be shared with applications and websites.

Apple’s plans for virtual reality go back a decade, and Tim Cook has made his ambitions public for most of that time. As early as 2016, the company filed patents for lightweight glasses and a larger device. But while Cook would have preferred the more compact option, a technical challenge forced Apple to change strategy, Bloomberg reports.

The announcement of the device comes after years of other Silicon Valley giants, including Google subsidiary Meta and Alphabet, trying to bring high-tech headphones into the mainstream. In 2014, Facebook bought Oculus startup for $2 billion (€1.87 billion) and released two generations of Meta Quest, aimed primarily at gamers. In 2016, Microsoft bet heavily on the Hololens headset, a 3D augmented reality device, but it failed to catch up with consumers. Google caused a stir more than a decade ago with its disastrous Google Glass, a stylish headset with a camera. The product immediately sparked outrage, with early users being dubbed ” glass holes “.

Apple has rarely been the first to tackle new product categories, instead letting other companies take the lead as they develop products it hopes can dominate its competitors. Apple has been overtaken in the market for mp3 players, smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches, but iPods, iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch have all become category-defining devices.

Therefore, Apple’s new challenge will be to invite users of its Vision Pro headphones to integrate this device into their daily lives. A goal that eluded all of his well-capitalized predecessors. People often complain about the helmets currently on the market: they get too hot, are too heavy to wear for a long time, or leave annoying sweat on the forehead. Others have found the experience of being disconnected from the real world — fully immersed in virtual reality for extended periods of time — too isolating. In an interview with GQ earlier this year, Cook said the Apple device could boost collaboration, though Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of a similar impact on the workplace failed to take off.

Apple also showed off a partnership with Disney, announcing that the Disney+ streaming service will be available on the Vision Pro mixed reality headset when it launches. Disney CEO Bob Iger, who is on the show, announced some mixed reality experiences, such as watching the Main Street Electrical Parade from his kitchen. Shares of Disney and Unity, a game software company with which Apple announced a separate partnership to provide development tools for Vision Pro, both jumped (by 26% in the case of Unity) after the announcement.

However, Apple stock dropped about 1% during the event, with most of the drop coming after Mr. Cook announced the price of the device. Earlier today, the stock hit an all-time high pending Vision Pro.

Apple also made several other announcements at Monday’s event. The tech giant showed off a new 15-inch Macbook Air with an 18-hour battery life and the new M2 processing chip, along with a new Mac OS called Sonoma with desktop widgets. Apple also introduced several new iPhone features, including a sleep mode that turns the device into a bedside clock and contact cards that let you customize what people see when you call. The company has repeatedly pointed to features that use “machine learning,” including auto-filling PDFs or transcribing recordings.

Translated article from the American magazine Forbes – the authors: Richard Neva and Kenrick Kay

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