With reported returns of Vision Pro, how can Apple get the market to accept an imperfect product?

Max Wang, analysis; Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

It has been nearly three weeks since Apple launched the Vision Pro on February 2. While some users have praised the experience and visual performances, Vision Pro's honeymoon phase appeared to be short as it has been reported that Apple has seen a wave of returns, likely due to the device's comfort levels, the depth of supported applications, and the richness of its content.

It's also worth noting that consumers who bought the Vision Pro at launch primarily consisted of diehard Apple fans and tech enthusiasts. When even users who typically have high expectations or high satisfaction levels for Apple products return the product, it signals a warning sign for competitors. How companies respond to this trend and reconsider their product development strategies and business models has become unavoidable.

Many issues with Vision Pro are common problems seen in other AR/VR devices. Resolution and user immersion still need to be improved. The control interface, processor performance, and standby time must be enhanced. On top of that, making AR/VR devices more lightweight and portable is closely connected to comfort level issues and a major R&D challenge, given that the Vision Pro weighs 600-650 grams while a regular pair of glasses weighs 18 - 30 grams.

Additionally, regarding the overall ecosystem, things like the content details, the application diversity, the existence of killer apps, and the definitions of new business models are also points of consideration. These things are also not easily resolved in the short term.

The effects of these issues can be observed in the strategies of AR/VR companies. HTC has been an early player in the AR/VR space. Due to the time required to achieve breakthroughs in the hardware specification, technology, and applications mentioned above, it has focused more on developing peripheral devices (VIVE Ultimate Tracker) and nurturing the ecosystem.

Moreover, since AR/VR devices appear to have better prospects in the commercial market than the consumer market, HTC's business expansions tend to lean towards B2B2C opportunities. Its ongoing marketing and promotions are about combinations with performances, art, and exhibitions.

After venturing into the AR/VR industry with the Quest series, Meta has also been very clear regarding the goals of its hardware devices, which aim to provide users with better and entirely new experiences in the social media and gaming sectors. The company can then move into the broader metaverse application market when the opportunity presents itself.

Returning to the Vision Pro, although its capability to position as an "extension for MacBook" has garnered attention, the same hardware development issues experienced by HTC and Meta are also occurring with Apple. The large disparity between the high expectations and the actual user experience of Vision Pro has led to a wave of returns.

How will Apple respond?

When the inherent technical shortcomings of the product cannot be overcome in the short term, Apple could consider innovating through applications and business models to make Vision Pro's current imperfections more acceptable to the market.

Apple has faced similar situations before, and the rise of the iPhone serves as an excellent reference case. Surrounded by giants like Nokia and Motorola and with the internet still in the 3G era, the iPhone's rise to prominence wasn't just because of its top-notch hardware specifications and avant-garde design. It originated from the successful business models of the iPod and iTunes, which allowed the iPhone access to iOS and the App Store.

Apple's decision to target the consumer market for Vision Pro before the ecosystem and business model are fully refined can be seen as a hasty move. However, this is not irrecoverable, and Apple has plenty of experience shifting the competition from a single product to one about the entire system.