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“Can Virtual Reality be the Future? Apple Places a Wager, but VR Professionals Argue We Aren’t Quite There Yet.” – Breaking:.


On Monday, Apple unveiled a new product that’s either revolutionary or a very expensive hype, depending on whether you’re the company description of the Vision Pro or media reviews of the reveal.

Launched at the company’s annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in Cupertino, California, the Apple Vision Pro is a portable headset. The device can switch between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), projecting digital images while still allowing users to see objects in the real world.

It can be used for immersive experiences in everything from work meetings and FaceTime to photos, movies and apps.

“Today marks the beginning of a new computing age,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.

The headset, which Apple says will be available in 2024, won’t be cheap, starting at $3,499 US, or about $4,700 Cdn.

While the Vision Pro was unveiled to some fanfare – it’s Apple’s first major product launch since the Apple Watch nearly a decade ago – investors reacted lukewarm. Analysts warned that cost could be a major deterrent and the VR and AR industries are struggling to take off in the past.

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Apple unveiled its first new product since the Apple Watch in 2015. The Vision Pro VR headset allows users to combine augmented reality with everyday life, but the $4,700 Cdn price tag can be a hard sell.

“VR resurfaces as the big thing about every 10 years,” Alla Sheffer, a professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia whose research areas include virtual and augmented reality, told Breaking:. “And then it goes away.”

The question on many people’s mind: is this time different?

What is the difference between VR and AR?

To understand the implications of the technology, it helps to understand the technology itself. Traditional virtual reality is a computer generated environment. Typically, a user wears a head-mounted display or headset like ski goggles, Sheffer explains. But instead of looking through those glasses, users see a display.

“You only see the virtual content. You don’t see the outside world,” Sheffer said.

VR also includes shooting settings and software that reacts to them: think of a virtual reality golf game where you move your hands, for example, and that is automatically captured and translated into a gesture using a virtual golf club.

A person wears a virtual reality headset.
Meta employees wear Oculus VR headsets during a visit by Ontario Premier Doug Ford to the Facebook parent company’s Toronto office on March 29, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

There are two types of augmented reality, Sheffer said: a head-mounted display and a cell phone. With head-mounted display AR, imagine wearing the same ski goggles, but now it’s transparent. You can see what’s in front of you in the physical world, but you can also see what’s on the screen.

Cell phone AR, Sheffer explained, combines what you see on your phone’s camera with virtual elements. Imagine choosing a sofa model on a shopping website and seeing it in your living room through your phone’s camera.

“You probably deal with AR a lot and don’t realize it,” says Bree McEwan, an associate professor at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology at the University of Toronto, and the director of the McEwan Mediated Communication Lab.

Pokemon GO, Snapchat, TikTok filters and even Google Maps already use AR, McEwan said.

A hand holding a mobile phone with an image of a young woman on the screen.  A Snapchat filter has been superimposed over it.
Guests use a Snapchat filter during HBO’s Mixtapes & Roller Skates in Philadelphia on July 19, 2018. (Lisa Lake/Getty Images for HBO)

What already exists in this area?

The Vision Pro combines both VR and AR into one device, McEwan and Sheffer explained. But Apple is far from the first company to venture into the virtual and augmented world.

There are already a number of VR headsets on the market, including Metas Oculus Quest 2 and Pro. The Quest 3 launches later this year and starts at $499 US or about $667 Cdn. That device will feature color mixed reality, which combines augmented and virtual reality elements, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Meta’s Quest 2 and Quest Pro devices made up nearly 80 percent of the 8.8 million virtual reality headsets sold in 2022, according to a estimate by market research firm IDC. Still, Meta has struggled to sell its vision of an immersive “metaverse” of interconnected virtual worlds and expand the market for its devices beyond the gaming community niche.

AR was a trickier market to break into, McEwan said, pointing to the failure of two products, HoloLens from Microsoft And Google Glass.

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When Snap, the company that owns SnapChat, AR glasses made“they weren’t going anywhere,” Sheffer said.

“AR didn’t take off the way people thought it would,” McEwan said, noting that there were a number of technical issues.

Sheffer said the battle comes down to a simple issue: “People don’t like to wear things on their heads.”

What are the real-world applications?

Right now, games are the biggest use of VR, McEwan said, adding, “Games is big business.”

It has also been used effectively for simulators, such as driving and flying simulators, playing sports and for training purposes, Sheffer said. “I think there’s a lot of value there.”

Virtual reality is also used in medicine and medical research; to make cancer treatments less stressful, to fulfill last wishes in palliative care and to keep surgical skills sharp, just to name a few applications. Some therapists use the technology to treat phobias and fears.

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In a pilot project at Reddam House School in Berkshire, England, students are using VR headsets in the classroom to learn new ways of learning traditional subjects. Stroking woolly mammoths, holding planets in their hands and examining the human heart are just some of the experiences students gain in this forward-looking view of education.

It’s also used for interpersonal skills and public speaking, McEwan said. Education is another big opportunity, she added. In one of the classes she teaches, McEwan hands students headsets and takes five weeks of virtual classes. It’s a model she started using during COVID, rather than using Zoom.

Screen-based AR is already being used in various industries, such as storage and manufacturing, Sheffer said, where you can point your camera at an object and recognition software will identify it.

So, is the future virtual?

McEwan sees a potential future for headsets in the business environment and predicts more organizations will be able to provide them for meetings and training. And if people feel comfortable using something in a business setting, that can spill over into the social setting, she said, pointing out that this happened with email and intranet messaging systems.

But while there’s what she calls a “cultural imagination,” to put a device on your head and appear in the metaverse, she said we’re not there yet. “The average person probably isn’t quite ready to jump into VR all the time.”

Whether headsets will finally take off, Sheffer calls “the billion-dollar question.” VR has exploded in popularity over the past few decades, but people didn’t want to wear the headsets, she said.

“I think if anyone can make it, it’s Apple,” she continued. “If they can easily make the headset and make people want to wear it, suddenly this could happen anywhere.”

A man wearing 3D glasses stretches out his arms in a room painted with images of molecules.
Hiroaki Yano, a researcher at the University of Tokyo’s Intelligent Modeling Laboratory, reaches out to touch carbon atoms in the microscopic world in the laboratory’s virtual reality room on Aug. 18, 1998. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
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