Despite not participating, Apple's Vision Pro had its presence felt at CES 2024

Chia-Han Lee, analysis; Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: Apple

While Apple didn't participate in the recently concluded CES 2024 in Las Vegas, its presence was still strongly felt as the company continued to make announcements during the event. The MR headset device, Vision Pro, has set its pre-order launch date for January 19. Several other companies also revealed potential competing products at CES, leading to inevitable comparisons with Vision Pro.

On January 8, the opening day of CES 2024, Apple announced that Vision Pro would be available for pre-order on its official website starting January 19. Retail store sales will launch on February 2, with in-store demonstrations scheduled for the first week. Despite CES being a major annual tech event, plenty of attention was still given to Vision Pro, as it represents Apple's most innovative product line in nearly nine years.

Apple's hardware "savior"

The official launch of Vision Pro comes when Apple is amidst a crisis of declining revenue. Additionally, Apple is dealing with a sales crisis for the Apple Watch. The built-in blood oxygen monitoring function in its new Series 9 and Ultra 2 products was ruled by the ITC to infringe on the technical patents of another medical device manufacturer, Masimo.

This led to import and sales bans being implemented in October 2023. With Apple's motion to lift the ban rejected by the Supreme Court of Appeals, the company is forced to take the controversial products off the shelves, further impacting the company's revenue.

Thus, Vision Pro is more or less given the immense responsibility of revitalizing Apple's hardware sales, even though its high price tag of US$3,499 has it viewed as a niche market product.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has high expectations for Vision Pro, believing it can extend computing capabilities from desktop and mobile to the "spatial" realm, going from smartphones and PCs to wearable devices. It will act as a consumer electronics product for entertainment purposes like gaming and watching media and serve as a next-gen computing platform and a genuine content application tool.

Reports suggested that the initial production volume of Vision Pro would only be 60,000 to 80,000 units, which could sell out quickly among developers, professionals, and Apple enthusiasts. Nevertheless, most analysts believe that the Vision Pro will not contribute meaningfully to Apple's revenue early on, with total sales in 2024 not expected to exceed 500,000 units.

Potential competitors

Apart from the sales challenges faced by the product itself, CES also saw several potential competitors for Vision Pro. Sony's "Spatial Content Creation" solution is one of the few that received a lot of attention. It featured an MR device equipped with Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon XR2+ Gen 2 platform and a single-eye 4K OLED display panel with a unique ring and pointing controller. However, this solution is not targeted at the gaming market but is designed for professionals involved in 3D content creation, such as engineers and 3D animators.

Another notable product is XREAL's AR glasses, the Air2 Ultra. It has a titanium alloy design and supports features like 6DoF (Degree of Freedom) and gesture tracking. It uses a Micro OLED display provided by Sony, which supports Full HD resolution, a 120Hz screen refresh rate, and 500 nits brightness.

Right before CES, Qualcomm announced the new-gen Snapdragon XR2+ Gen2, which will be used in the MR device developed in collaboration with Samsung Electronics and Google. Said device is undoubtedly positioning itself to be a competitor of Vision Pro.

However, upon closer examination of the features and positioning of these products, it suggests that they may not directly compete with Vision Pro. Sony's new MR solution, despite similar hardware specifications and features to Vision Pro, seems geared towards content creators rather than general consumers or corporations. XREAL's Air2 Ultra is an AR glasses product, which is not the same as Vision Pro's MR capabilities and cannot provide immersive applications like gaming or movie watching.

As for Qualcomm's new XR platform, it is merely a reference design and is currently limited to collaboration with Samsung and Google. With a concept prototype still nowhere to be seen, it poses no real threat to Apple in the short term.

The most formidable competitor for Apple still comes down to current XR device market leader Meta, as its Quest 3 and Pro series products overlap with Vision Pro in terms of features, application scenarios, and even target markets.