Everyone’s doing it. Sony’s doing it. Samsung’s doing it. Google’s been doing it for years. Even Facebook is doing it.
Virtual reality. 360-degree video. Call it what you will, it’s either the next big thing in technology or the next development to burn brightly for twelve months before vanishing into obscurity.
But it’s puzzling that Apple hasn’t yet entered the VR race. Doubly so when you consider that many of the leading brands in the VR battle are handset manufacturers using reasonably priced headsets as an incentive to maintain smartphone revenues – the Samsung Gear is £50, for example. We do know, however, that Apple is investigating VR, even if CEO Tim Cook recently declared that augmented reality (AR) was going to be bigger than VR for the time being.
From a product perspective, there’s no reason why the tech giant could not have funded and developed a VR headset by now – iPhones are certainly capable of handling high resolution VR.
However, from a marketing perspective, Apple does not simply enter a race; it blazes a trail. Whether that trail burns brightly for a long time – in the case of iPhones and iPads – or a short time – in the case of the iWatch – whatever Tim Cook’s team launches makes an impact. And above all, Apple products tend to be focused around a beautiful lifestyle concept, rather than just being a simple product sold on technical benefits.
One only needs to look at the iPhone website to see that it’s not just a phone, it’s a style icon. The page for the Mac series uses around eight words per model and beautiful photography of each one. Apple will quite simply not launch anything unless it’s an aspirational lifestyle object – and right now, not only is there a scarcity of VR content, but VR is also predominantly sold on its novelty value. In all honesty, headsets today do look a bit dorky.
We might be wildly off the mark here, but until the superbrains at Apple manage to make VR headsets slick, sexy objects which look great on and off your head, and there is enough content to make VR a serious contender to television, I suspect that we’ll be waiting a while for Cook’s superbrand to get into the race.
And perhaps rightly so.
Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, University of Texas at Austin