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Apple has finally unveiled its heavily rumoured AR/VR headset. But could the Vision Pro's lack of focus on the metaverse mark the closing chapter of the Web3 virtual world?
Running with the term "spatial computing" rather than "metaverse," Apple claims its latest gizmo will usher in a new era of media consumption and interaction. The Vision Pro "seamlessly blends digital content with the physical world" to revolutionise how users game, work and communicate, Apple said during the product's announcement on Monday.
Welcome to the era of spatial computing with Apple Vision Pro. You’ve never seen anything like this before! pic.twitter.com/PEIxKNpXBs— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) June 5, 2023
If this pitch already sounds familiar, it might be because Web3 fanboys have been using the same pitch to sell metaverse capabilities for the last few years. Although, no one really bought it. Could Apple's pitch be any different?
What could have been a revival for the, let's face it, dying metaverse, is a frustratingly missed opportunity from the Web3 perspective. Throughout Apple's WWDC23 2-hour keynote or even through its 9-minute Vision Pro segment, the tech titan did not mention the term "metaverse" once.
Apple's decision to sidestep the metaverse was clearly no accident but its intentions are up for interpretation.
Tech news site Gizmodo went as far as calling Apple's new device "anti-metaverse," stating "Apple isn’t necessarily trying to compete with all the likes of Meta in its quest to create a new digital realm, AKA the 'Metaverse.'"
Meanwhile, crypto news site Coindesk tried to take a more optimistic stance. "This technology represents a new paradigm for immersive digital experiences and will likely shape the way we build in Web3," Coindesk argued.
For those of you with your finger on the VR pulse, the elephant in the room here is Meta and its Oculus headset. Currently leading the pack, Meta's Oculus is designed to be the entry point into Meta's metaverse.
Starting at just US$299, the Oculus is a mere fraction of the Vision Pro's $3,499 price tag. However, despite its (relatively) low cost and market-leading sales numbers, the Oculus is still failing to convince the wider world that the metaverse is necessary.
Metaverse-related start-ups raised $664 million in venture capital in the first five months of 2023, compared to the $2.93 billion they raised in the same period in 2022, according to data compiled by PitchBook.
Meta's Reality Labs also continues to be loss-making and will be for the foreseeable future according to Meta themselves. "We continue to expect Reality Labs operating losses to increase year-over-year in 2023," Meta said in their most recent earnings report.
Disney recently laid off about 50 employees who had been working on metaverse projects whilst China's big tech firms Tencent and ByteDance are also downsizing their metaverse units despite earlier enthusiasm for VR.
With metaverse projects falling by the wayside, the industry can't exactly blame Apple for feeling sour towards the metaverse. That said, the Vision Pro doesn't necessarily rule out metaverse integration.
As a computing device, the Vision Pro is a new addition to the Apple ecosystem that comes bare bones. Much like the iPhone and iPad, its success will be defined and moulded by developers who build products for the hardware. Apple unveiling the Vision Pro at its annual developer conference symbolizes this.
Apple has built a seemingly compelling device for the AR/VR market and is handing over the toolkit to developers to build upon it ahead of its public rollout next year.
To this extent, whether the Vision Pro embraces the metaverse will be down to whether developers believe the market demands it.
Web3 developers could very well capitalise on Apple's next-gen tech to create metaverse-related products, but can they wait another year for its physical launch? Past experience suggests the Web3 industry is not so long-sighted.