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Apple tries to distance itself from Meta, competition: Don’t call it a headset

Apple (AAPL) debuted its long-awaited Vision Pro on Monday, marking the company’s official entry into the AR/VR headset wars. Just don’t tell Apple that.

The company went to great pains to distance itself from the broader AR/VR headset market and, more specifically, its now rival Meta (META). Not only did Apple price the Vision Pro well beyond Meta’s Quest line of devices, it didn’t even call the Vision Pro a headset. Instead, Apple refers to its latest product as a “spatial computer.”

Apple’s messaging is clear. The company isn’t looking to associate itself with an industry that’s yet to take off, despite years of efforts from the likes of Meta, HTC, Magic Leap, and others. And don’t expect Apple to ever talk about the metaverse.

Instead, the company is selling its own spin on the headset category. But despite its best efforts to initially market the Vision Pro as a product unto itself, the reality is, it’s as much a headset as any of its competitors’ offerings.

Spatial computing

Apple’s push to separate itself from the AR/VR herd is to simply not to call the Vision Pro exactly what it is…a headset. Read through the company’s press release and you won’t find a single trace of the word headset. Rewatch the roughly 40-minute Vision Pro portion of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference 2023 keynote, and you won’t hear anyone utter the term “headset.”

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Instead, Apple wants you to think of the Vision Pro as a “spatial computer.” Something that allows you to interact with augmented reality versions of the apps you already use on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac including Messages, Photos, and Safari.

The Apple Vision Pro headset is displayed in a showroom on the Apple campus Monday, June 5, 2023, in Cupertino, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The Apple Vision Pro headset is displayed in a showroom on the Apple campus Monday, June 5, 2023, in Cupertino, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Apple also goes out of its way to dance around the term “virtual reality.” Instead, the company refers to levels of immersion when using the Vision Pro. One example is the Environments app, which allows you to view virtual reality versions of places like Mount Hood in Oregon. Rather than saying you can move between augmented reality and virtual reality in the app, Apple talks up being able to control how immersed you are in the app.

Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, specifically shouted out the Meta Quest 3’s virtual reality capabilities and referred to it as a headset in an Instagram post announcing the product just days before Apple’s WWDC.

It’s not just balking at calling the Vision Pro a headset or that it offers virtual reality capabilities, either.

No metaverse for Apple

Unlike Meta, Google (GOOG, GOOGL), and Microsoft (MSFT), Apple has never talked about jumping into the metaverse. And if you thought the company’s Vision Pro was going to kickstart that effort, you were sorely mistaken.

Apple avoided mentioning any ideas remotely similar to Meta’s concept of the metaverse, which is a series of interconnected worlds that allow you to interact with other people wearing headsets. In fact, it tried to make the case that its offering is more about maintaining connections with the people around you.

That’s the purpose of the Vision Pro’s EyeSight feature. The capability will allow other people in the room with you to see a digital projection of your eyes on the Vision Pro’s external display when you’re wearing it.

A Meta employee demonstrates the Meta Quest Pro VR Headset in Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 4, 2023. - The Met Quest Pro VR headset features VR improvements including high-res sensors that enable full-color mixed reality experiences, next-gen pancake optics, and advanced LCD displays. (Photo by Robyn BECK / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
A Meta employee demonstrates the Meta Quest Pro VR Headset. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images) (ROBYN BECK via Getty Images)

How exactly that will work, and whether it will actually make wearing a headset feel less isolating remains to be seen, since I wasn’t able to try the feature during my Vision Pro demo. But it’s clear Apple is more interested in connecting people in the real world rather than connecting via the metaverse. Or at least trying to.

Zuckerberg already has his knives out for Apple's headset and its price. According to The New York Times, the Meta CEO criticized the Vision Pro during a town hall meeting with employees.

"I was really curious to see what they’d ship, and it’s a good sign for our own development that they don’t have any magical solutions to the laws of physics that we haven’t already explored," he said.

"Our vision of the metaverse and presence is fundamentally social and about people interacting and feeling closer in new amazing ways. By contrast, every demo Apple showed was someone sitting on a couch by themselves."

Not exactly priced to move

If avoiding using the same terms and trends as its competitors isn’t enough to convince you Apple is trying to separate itself from the pack of AR/VR headset makers out there, then consider the Vision Pro’s price.

At $3,499, the Vision Pro is far more expensive than Meta’s Quest Pro, $999, and Quest 3, $499; and easily eclipses Sony’s (SONY) $549 PlayStation VR2 and HTC’s $1,249 Vive Pro 2. In fact, Apple’s pricing scheme is only matched by Microsoft’s Hololens 2, which costs $3,500.

Apple is positioning its headset as a premium device that’s less a high-priced toy and more an ultra-premium device that will lead the company into a new era.

The question now is whether trying to differentiate itself from the pack will prove successful for Apple’s Vision Pro sales in the long term. We’ll learn more when the Vision Pro launches sometime early next year.

Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. He's been covering the tech industry since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielHowley.

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