AR/VR & Generative AI – Where To?

Generative AI has the potential to transform how people live and work and if controlled by devious minds, it also has the potential to cause immense damage, writes Niranjan Gidwani

Can Apple shake up the technology world again at a time when artificial intelligence is changing how people interact with computers?

A big welcome to the new Apple Vision Pro. Waiting to get a first-hand look at the product.

As per what information is available via the media, putting on the headset immerses wearers in an augmented reality space that they control with their eyes, hands, and voice, using the device for work or play.

Doing a recap - Apple has wowed consumers with three devices over its history.

The first being the Macintosh computer with a mouse that gave a new feel to computing. Next came the iPod. And then the iPhone's arrival brought in the era of touch-screen smartphones.

With the Vision Pro, Apple is wanting to lay the groundwork for its next big success story. Allowing human creativity to run free in the limitless digital space.

Yet, we need to pause and remind ourselves that another technology revolution has already begun before the launch of the Vision Pro: The much talked about Generative artificial intelligence. This is the hottest topic globally.

Generative AI has the potential to transform how people live and work. And if controlled by devious minds, it also has the potential to cause immense damage.

As regards Apple's revenues and market capitalisation, they have continued to grow, but the company has yet to write a new chapter similar to the success of the iPhone.

There is a big risk in taking one's time in a fast-changing world. AI and AR are evolving simultaneously with quantum computers, crypto assets, and 3D printing, among many other new technologies. Therefore, it is the right move that Apple jumped in with the Vision Pro.

Currently priced at $3,499, the real test will be whether Apple can achieve prices that are quickly within reach of mainstream consumers, and on how fast it can roll out popular apps. With more than 5,000 patents, Apple calls the sleek glass goggles the most ambitious product they have ever created.

Unlike other headsets, which tend to require hand-held controllers, the Vision Pro is controlled by hand gestures, voice commands, and eye movements. It tracks eyes like a mouse and recognises irises in place of a password. It uses front-mounted cameras to show the user a video view of the world around them. And to make them appear more normal to others, it projects a video image of their eyes onto the front of the glass. 

However, at $3,499, the device is more than three times as expensive as Meta’s rival VR and AR headset, the Quest Pro, and more than ten times as expensive as the Quest 2. 

The current Vision Pro version has a fairly large external battery, connected to the headset by a cable, which lasts only two hours. 

Interestingly, going by media information, Meta seems to be scaling back its enthusiasm, after seeing weak sales of the Quest Pro despite a steep price cut since its launch. Microsoft, a software giant, has put on hold the idea of making another HoloLens, an AR device that is mainly used by corporate clients. Tencent, the Chinese digital titan, abandoned its VR hardware plans in February this year.

According to Insider Intelligence, about 10% of Americans use a VR headset at least once a month. Most of those sets are made by Meta, which has been selling its Quest 2 at a huge loss to build up some kind of a critical mass of users. This autumn it will release the Quest 3, a device which will be far less capable than Apple’s but, at $499, a more realistic prospect for most consumers.

Technology experts have long speculated that it will eventually be possible to have a pair of AR glasses as thin and light as a pair of sunshades. At that stage, headsets will stop being clunky objects and start becoming something that normal people might wear all day. 

Who knows, such devices might even replace the smartphone as the next big tech platform.

On the flip side, Apple has always had a huge reputation for releasing perfect and superbly polished products. But by releasing a $3,499 device with a two-hour battery life could amount to a kind of “brand withdrawal". Hopefully not.

It is also not yet clear what people will do with their devices. So far VR headsets have been used mostly for gaming. Apple’s suggested uses for the Vision Pro seem to involve treating it as a sort of giant virtual desktop, using floating windows of Zoom chats or Excel spreadsheets, or watching a film on a giant virtual screen. 

To be honest, as of now, none of this appears to be anywhere near as innovative as the Vision Pro technology itself.

Yet, one cannot deny the fact that Apple enjoys big advantages over its rivals. It has a huge existing user base, with 2 billion devices in circulation. It is a known fact that whenever Apple has entered a product category market, it has completely changed the trajectory of that category. Wishing it the same success with the Vision Pro.

While Vision Pro is a product, and Generative AI is a concept, it is safe to assume that till the end of 2024, the buzz around Generative AI will be much more.

(Niranjan Gidwani is the Consultant Director, Member UAE Superbrands Council, Charter Member TIE Dubai & HBR Advisory Council.)

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