Here’s what brand marketers need to know about Apple’s ground-breaking ‘spatial computing’ device, according to IPG Media Lab’s Richard Yao.

Apple store

/ Adobe Stock

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.

Apple’s vision

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.