For all the talk of the 2022 metaverse, the VR headsets intended to be the window to this burgeoning 3D world actually lost momentum last year. In December, headset tracker IDC projected total shipments in 2022 would fall 12.8% from 2021, but bounce back significantly and consistently from this year.
Sony’s imminent return and Apple’s possible entry into the headset business in 2023 seem just what’s needed to revive the category. But that’s not necessarily a given, as incumbent category leader Meta Platforms seems to be more focused on the high end of the market with its pricey Quest Pro product, while Apple doesn’t typically target the low end with any of its products.
Sony could also find its PlayStation VR 2 a limited audience due to accessibility requirements. In a year when inflation could dampen consumer appetites for expensive devices in general, don’t be surprised if the expected upswing for this category turns out to be rather subdued, as the cheaper range of products where Meta broke through is ignored.
But the big question mark is Apple. Reports indicate an overdue mixed-reality headset from Apple will be announced in the spring and will ship later in 2023. Said to be called “Reality Pro,” this product puts Apple in direct competition with Meta Platforms.
Notwithstanding Meta’s difficulties on Wall Street as the Reality Labs division bleeds money doesn’t change the fact that the VR space has been dominated by Meta since the Quest 2 headset hit the market in 2020 and quickly conquered PlayStation VR shipments from 2016.
As the February release of Sony’s new PlayStation VR 2 headset approaches, the near-disappearance of new PSVR shipments after 2020 has provided some hard lessons about the arrival of VR and how the upfront cost and entry requirements remain a difficult hurdle for companies to overcome.
While the PSVR2 has more built-in features intended to speed up headset setup for consumers – only one cord needs to be connected to the PlayStation 5 console, versus a cluttered array of cords and connectors for the first PSVR – Meta offers still a completely wireless VR experience.
In addition, the presence of PlayStation 5 in the process still complicates the overall sales of PSVR 2, as both systems are pricey but necessary to access Sony’s exclusive VR offerings and a wider library of third-party games, many of which include be accessible. through Meta’s storefront.
Retailing for just $400, Meta Quest 2 remains a much cheaper option than the $550 entry point for PSVR 2. If you add PS5 to the equation, the cost of entry skyrockets to as much as $1,050 in North America or more if you’ll be buying elsewhere in the world, according to recent price hikes Sony has made.
Sony’s edge over Meta, aside from exclusive gaming experiences like “Horizon: Call of the Mountain”, is that the PSVR 2, even with a PS5 system attached, is still cheaper than Meta’s own technically advanced headset upgrade through the Quest Pro, which launched in October. 2022 for $1,500 per headset.
While PSVR 2 is a headset for the gaming market, the Quest Pro launched alongside one numerous partnerships intended to make the headset as much a tool as gaming hardware. Compatibility with Microsoft 365, Office, and Teams, as well as additional access to the Xbox Game Pass library, show a meta acting aggressively when it comes to defending its territory, even as it simultaneously raises the cost of access to its newer VR offering in its own disadvantage, possibly.
It remains a mystery how Apple can disrupt this competition, if at all. But it should help that Apple is reportedly not treating its major VR entry as a niche offshoot. Instead, Apple is making its Reality Pro offering the focus of its 2023 as opposed to its MacBook, Watch, TV or iPad products. Its supposed status as a mixed reality headset also means that the visual features will extend to one’s physical environment as seen through the headset, rather than being completely confined to a computer-generated inner panel.
Moreover, Apple owns the iPhone. Whatever the actual features, it’s hard to imagine that Reality Pro can’t be integrated in a variety of ways the more than a billion active iPhones scattered around the world, an accessibility advantage that Apple would foolishly ignore if it wanted to make a dent in Meta’s market share.
In terms of cost, Apple already offers monthly payment plans for its own expensive hardware, so it’s not out of the question that a similar plan won’t be implemented to lower the barrier to entry and increase Reality Pro’s chances of widespread adoption.
Meta may have broken ground it did at the beginning of the decade when it was still known as Facebook. Sony and Apple are poised to eat up that market share this year, but how price-sensitive consumers are will determine how much ground they gain on Meta.