Apple may leap into the VR headset space with a “mostly virtual reality device” as early as next year, per Bloomberg. The news comes amid a period of renewed interest in VR from companies tinkering with the tech for remote work applications. When released, the headset—which will be similar in size to the Oculus Quest—could reportedly feature a 3D environment for gaming, video, and communication, along with some limited AR functionality, an internal fan, support for prescription lenses, and a hefty price tag typical of Apple gadgets.
Apple’s VR push marks its first major hardware endeavor since the 2015 release of the Apple Watch, breaking from its recent focus on services. For years, Apple’s soaring profits were tied to its crowning jewel—the iPhone. While iPhones still made up a majority (54.7%) of Apple’s sales in 2019, that figure has steadily decreased over time. In Apple’s fiscal Q4 2020 (ended September 26, 2020), for example, iPhone’s sales brought in $26.44 billion, which was down from $33.36 billion a year prior. With fewer people purchasing iPhones and other hardware, Apple made a strategic decision to pivot heavily toward its Services segment, starting first with its 2015 rollout of Apple Music and followed by TV+ and News+ subscriptions in 2019, all of which complement its already established Apple Pay and iCloud services. By the end of 2019, Services reportedly made up around 17.7% of Apple’s revenues. That continued last year as Apple announced Q4 revenues of $64 billion, propelled mainly by “all-time records” for Services, according to CEO Tim Cook.
Apple’s appeal to an exclusive audience segment, and its recent emphasis on services over hardware, mean the new goggles are unlikely to spark the VR revolution. While VR users in the US are expected to grow from 52.1 million monthly users in 2020 to 60.8 million in 2022, according to eMarketer forecasts, it’s unclear how many of those users will be willing to shell out big bucks for Apple’s high-end experience. The prohibitively expensive expected price tag, combined with Apple’s late arrival to the market, means the VR industry is unlikely to benefit from the popularity boost often attributed to the “Apple effect,” and Apple is therefore unlikely to significantly drive VR adoption.