Escalating rumours have been swirling in the press for weeks suggesting Apple is preparing to mark its long-anticipated entry into the AR segment with the launch of a supporting headset at its annual developer conference next week.

The technology segment is a fickle place and while the “realities” and metaverse were major buzzwords at the start of the year, now the hype-train has been well and truly rerouted towards AI.

However, will such a public backing of the segment by Apple revealing a supporting device at its Worldwide Developer Conference shift the narrative again?

Ahead of the event and anticipated unveiling of the device, Mobile World Live (MWL) quizzed top analysts about the mooted launch and the tech giant’s potential in this space.

IDC associate research analyst Diogo Santos told MWL “in the short term, it will not be considered relevant in Apple’s overall portfolio,” adding the device was more of an indication the vendor strongly believes “in the future potential of XR technology”.

“The company doesn’t delve into a new category” lightly “and we can assume that this is an investment for the long term”.

Leaks published by Bloomberg and others suggest the headset will be sold for around $3,000, aimed at the developer community and fall under the broad MR umbrella.

Assuming rumours, including on the price-tag, are accurate, Santos surmised the device was unlikely to be being pitched at the mass market, instead made to showcase the potential of the category with Apple eventually making “a more affordable and profitable, mass market device when the public becomes more receptive”.

Reignite interest
PP Foresight tech, media and telco analyst Paolo Pescatore backed a launch by the iPhone maker next week to “provide a much-needed boost and reignite interest in the market”.

He, too, noted it was more of a long-term play. “For now, it is about putting a stake in the ground [to] provide developers will all the tools to create next generation experiences. This in turn will generate consumer demand ahead of bigger moves in the future.”

In terms of markets, Pescatore anticipated it will “appeal to loyal fans and for users looking for an immersive experience in areas such as games and live events”, though he noted the industry is still at an early stage and has a long way to go.

CCS Insight principal analyst for connected devices Leo Gebbie described a move in the space as “the biggest change in Apple’s strategic direction for years and a huge statement of intent from the company in exploring the next generation of computing”.

“If Apple does unveil plans for an extended reality headset, this would reignite excitement around a technology which has struggled in recent times,” he added.

“After the trials and travails of the metaverse, Apple would be tasked with re-energising the segment and showing a new direction for spatial computing. We predict it would work hard to show new uses for virtual reality, such as social experiences, to try and appeal to a wider demographic than the technology has managed so far.”

Wallet reality-check
If the Apple device is pitched in the $3,000 range, it would come in towards the top of the market. Microsoft’s standard Hololens 2 is priced at $3,500 in the US, though there are much cheaper options under the “realities” umbrella from the likes of Meta Platforms and HTC with its Vive line.

However, Santos expected Apple’s pricing to “not be too problematic if [it keeps] volume expectations low for this first showcase/enthusiast model, but if Apple wants to be considered a dominant, or even a relevant player in this market, it will need to match the public desire with the public wallet”.

Pescatore added: “People are not rushing out of their seats to buy a VR headset or even watch 360 degree videos,” noting the form factor currently suffered a “lack of consumer appetite to fork out so much money for a clunky device without a strong content offering”.

Despite increasing competition, Gebbie stated the emergence of Apple as a player in the sector would drive overall interest, which would benefit offerings at all price points.

“Apple’s offering is rumoured to be extremely expensive,” Gebbie added, “meaning that more affordable devices from Meta [Platforms], Pico and Sony may stand out as people look to take the leap into virtual worlds. The rising tide of interest in extended reality should lift the fortunes of all companies involved.”

Richard Windsor, founder of research blog Radio Free Mobile, noted the company had little choice but to enter the segment, though added “next week is far too early to release a device”.

“Apple must address this segment even if it is a total flop because the price of failure should the metaverse take off and Apple is left behind, is to repeat Nokia’s fate.”

“I do not expect it to be aimed at consumers, but to be more of a teaser for developers so that they have an idea of where Apple intends to go in the long term and can do some tinkering.”

The launch of Apple’s headset is rumoured to be scheduled for 5 June.

Full coverage of the company’s major announcements from its Worldwide Developer Conference (headset or not) will be featured on MWL next week.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.