Apple’s recent history of new product category launches denote major, culturally impactful, events: AirPods, Apple Watch, iPad, and of course — the pinnacle of the bunch — the iPhone. The Watch didn’t set the world on fire immediately, but I think it still qualifies to be among the bunch, racking up tens of millions of sales within two years. AirPods took a while to ramp up too.
The rumoured headset product is simply not going to meet that same level of appeal, but is that a necessarily a bad thing? It depends. If Apple presents it as the next big thing, laden with superlatives, then it will backfire. If it approaches its introduction in a more subdued fashion, in a similar vein to the launch of something like the Pro Display XDR, then it’s probably fine. Don’t set unrealistic expectations and people will not be disappointed. Apple Reality Pro is the start of a long journey, and the billions of dollars of research and development will eventually culminate in something monumental. Just not yet.
Being active in the augmented reality space is clearly important, and Apple has signalled as much with six major versions of ARKit under its belt already. The v1.0 headset hardware is the next step on the journey. In the best case, it will establish Apple as a market leader in the space, evangelise to developers and kickstart an ecosystem. It might make some inroads in the enterprise. I don’t think many ordinary people will get on board. The rumoured second-generation model has a better shot, but even that will probably be priced above $1000. But maybe by the time that second-gen comes out, Apple and developers noodling with the first-gen might have figured out some killer app use cases that will allow that price to be somewhat justified. If not, no biggie. There’s always the third-gen. And after that ships, the state of the art of technology will hopefully be closing in on making the ideal form factor — thin and light glasses — viable. And when that happens, Apple will be ready.
Eddy Cue once said, if Apple only did things that were as big as the iPhone, they would never release another product. Back when Apple was far less flush with cash, it had to make an immediate splash to survive, let alone thrive. Nowadays, the company doesn’t have that pressure, and it’s implausible that it could one-up itself forever. Sometimes it makes sense to start small.