Behind Apple’s VR competitive edge

Summary: Apple’s new VR/AR headset will likely succeed in the long term, owing to its ease of use and strong consumer trust. This can be explained by how Apple has consistently met and exceeded customer expectations, allowing it to shape expectations in this new category of immersive content.

The VR headset battle and brand trust

While fresh out of the box last week, Apple’s new VR/AR headset is being lauded as a ‘revolution in AR/VR interfaces‘. This was expected: that Apple would lead the way with a sensible, accessible, and polished user experience– in essence, Vision Pro paves the way for a more realistic metaverse. However, given the extreme price point and immature ecosystem, it’s early days. Microsoft Hololens used the high price strategy to manage rollout- read damage limitation- into an emerging and risky category. Apple is more likely confident it can extend the AppStore ecosystem model (developers build the content) to its new ‘spatial operating system’, VisionOS.

The key to Apple’s likely success in this area is cashing in on consumer trust and streamlined user experience. Compare Apple’s late entry to Hololens, which ended up being a US military pet project, or to Meta’s Oculus, which did not prioritize privacy, safety, or usability (let alone deliver on even an early metaverse vision). Despite the new company rebranding, Facebook also tried to enter the new category half-baked and completely tarnished regarding consumer trust.

Apple seems to be entering with a three-pronged trust approach: 1) ease of use, which impacts perceived trust; 2) brand trust, which impacts loyalty; and 3) privacy, which impacts trust through user adoption.

“Privacy and security built in: Like every Apple product and service, Apple Vision Pro was designed to help protect your privacy and keep you in control of your data. It builds on the foundation of existing Apple privacy and security features with new technologies like Optic ID, a secure authentication system that uses the uniqueness of your iris.Data from cameras and sensors is processed at the system level, so individual apps do not need to see your surroundings to enable spatial experiences.” (Apple website)

Privacy concerns erode brand trust

Facebook’s privacy lessons (mistakes 15 years in the making by the time they rebranded to Meta) meant they entered a new category with low trust— despite the attractive price.

Even logging into your Oculus Quest 2 was a nightmare, as we experienced testing VR experiences for client projects. The app sent you in circles between your Oculus and Facebook accounts, with no chance of getting logged in. It took Meta over a year to fix this from when Mark Zuckerberg publically acknowledged the issue.

Why Apple has an open runway

Apple operates differently. Known for its stringent privacy policies, Apple has built a solid trust foundation with its users. This trust equity extends to its new VR headset offering.

How did Apple build trust equity? The more your product or service consistently Meets and Exceeds expectations, the more you gain trust and loyalty. The more consistently you do this, the more you can have the privilege to ‘Shape’ expectations. I call this phenomenon Expectation Engineering.

A good UX Management process like Apple has fostered can get you there.

In Apple’s case, they are building on the previous two category disruptors with iPod Touch and Apple Watch.

Expectation engineering diagram- meet and exceed user expectations lets you shape them

The key to Expectation Engineering is consistently meeting and exceeding expectations over many products and years. Once you are there, brand extension or new user adoption (VIDEO) possibilities are made available. To be clear, the ‘Shape’ phase only emerges after meeting and exceeding expectations. In essence, it’s the fruits of earning trust and loyalty.

The Long Game: Apple’s slow winding road

Apple’s strategy with VR/AR is no rush job. It’s about playing the long game.

How Apple does this: Apple focuses on refining its product, ensuring it aligns with the brand’s core values: innovation, ease of use, privacy, and quality. The high price point buys them time to mass-market it to their fan base and gauges user adoption while iterating the product design and curating the content ecosystem.

Once Generative AI UX combines with immersive reality content, we will see mainstream adoption and more ‘killer app’ scenarios. Apple will, in essence, make it compelling to participate in Zuckerberg’s metaversion vision (basically social VR).

Yes, But: It will likely be the 2030s before Apple’s VR/AR product is sitting in everyone’s daily line-up of: “Virtual Doctor visits,”; “Attend court hearings,” and more. Vision Pro is more like the iPod Touch than the iPhone–meaning it took quite a few iterations to get it right and let it evolve into a more integrated product. In AR/VR that means lighter and more portable headsets, like the RayBan Meta sunglasses.

Bottom line: Trust is the ultimate currency

In introducing users to the “next big thing,” Apple’s VR/AR strategy leans on the trust and loyalty it has earned.  However, history suggests that Apple’s patience and focus on user experience could ultimately bring mass adoption to immersive media, just as it has done with other categories.

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