Home / News / Analysis: Apple’s Vision Pro sets up a clash with Valve, Sony, Meta over future of VR/AR

Analysis: Apple’s Vision Pro sets up a clash with Valve, Sony, Meta over future of VR/AR

Jul 14, 2023Jul 14, 2023

by Thomas Wilde on June 6, 2023 at 4:34 pmJune 6, 2023 at 4:34 pm

Apple newly announced headset positions the company as a contender in the evolving field of virtual and augmented reality, and highlights the divergent paths that major players are taking through the current state of VR/AR.

While VR/AR has been relatively quiet compared to its pre-COVID boom period, the industry hasn't gone anywhere. In fact, 2023 has seen the field get intense, with both new and old competitors bringing new products and platforms into the field.

These four companies represent four different approaches to the VR/AR scene at time of writing, which also represents a visible point of divergence in how the technology is being adapted and used.

Apple is, on the face of it, flying in the face of several recent movements in the space. The old problem with — and argument against — VR was that it was a boutique product, aimed at hobbyists who had a lot of disposable income and at least one spare room to dedicate to their VR rig.

With better tracking, smarter controllers, and wireless technology, Meta changed a lot about the VR/AR scene with the Quest 2. It's a standalone product that doesn't require you to hook it up to a PC or install base stations. More importantly, it's priced like a normal video game console, at $349 or less.

Apple's Vision Pro, conversely, is planned to ship at $3,499. Even for an Apple product, that's a steep ask. I’ve seen some guesses that the plan with the Vision Pro is chiefly to sell it to developers, in order to build out a new VR/AR wearables space for Apple that’ll mature in a few years with a more affordable edition of the Vision. That doesn't seem entirely in step with Apple's traditional playbook, however.

The Meta Quest Pro has ended up looking like a hasty attempt to head Apple off at the pass. Unlike the Vision, Meta is pitching the Quest Pro primarily as a metaverse tool and productivity guide. Sure, the Pro has controllers and is compatible with the Meta store, so you can use it for games, but Meta seems most excited about what it’ll do to office life.

Finally, there's Sony, which has fully focused its PlayStation VR2 on video games. There are a couple of ways to run other media apps like Netflix through your PSVR2 headset, the same way you can on the Meta Quest 2, but the PSVR2 is meant for entertainment.

Its recent announcements at the PlayStation Showcase include a VR adaptation of the recent remake of Capcom's Resident Evil 4 and a sequel to zombie shooter Arizona Sunshine. Productivity, as a rule, is not high on Sony's menu.

All three of these devices have one real thing in common, and that's building a "walled garden" around their own individual ecosystems. Many PSVR2 games are published by Sony itself and are exclusive to the platform. While Sony's recently started bringing many of its first-party titles to PC via Steam, such as God of War, many of its past VR titles like Blood & Truth have stayed on PSVR.

As for Valve, we’ve known since roughly 2021 that it's at least working on a follow-up to the Valve Index, because the company filed several patents for it. There have been rumors about a theoretical "Index 2" for years, but Valve famously works on its own internal schedule. As Robin Walker told me in 2020, Valve is entirely self-owned, so it's got the freedom to explore whatever it wants to do without having to worry about issues like frantic shareholders.

Against this backdrop, however, the interesting thing about a potential Index 2 comes from what Valve has done with its portable gaming PC, the Steam Deck. Specifically, the Deck has no built-in digital rights management, so anyone who wants to use it for homebrew projects is fully able to do so without any hacks or exploits.

While you can't say Valve doesn't have its own "walled garden," considering it owns the Steam digital storefront, it is, if anything, a little too easy to get onto Steam in 2023.

More importantly, if it carries forward the same mod-friendly policies from the Steam Deck to a theoretical Index 2, it could pose an interesting disruption to the overall VR/AR scene. A big part of Apple and Meta's current game plan comes from their built-in, captive audiences, but in a theoretical scenario where Valve releases an Index follow-up that also doubles as a homebrew-friendly dev kit, it could do a lot to open up indie development in a space that's currently dominated by major players.

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