April 20, 2024


Are we there yet?

Virtual reality headsets are quietly revolutionizing business and healthcare. They’ve been used to teach KFC staff to fry chicken, prepare UPS drivers for road hazards, and train astronauts for outer space. In healthcare, they’re used for pain management by veterans and kids with cancer. And these are only a few examples.

With the release of Apple Vision Pro, virtual reality headsets are becoming more entrenched in popular culture. But they’ve actually been around for a long, long time. And suddenly, the way they might finally maneuver their way into our lives might be less “magic escape to exotic locale” and more “practical way to get things done.”

Who knew?


Brief history

1838: Charles Wheatstone invents the stereoscope, which makes 2D pictures look like 3D objects. Smithsonian Magazine called it the “original virtual reality”

1968: The first actual virtual reality headset is created by Ivan Sutherland, a professor at Harvard. He and his student name it the Sword of Damocles, which is an ancient parable about power and “looming danger” written by the Roman philosopher Cicero. It shows computer-generated graphics on top of a user’s surroundings – a more archaic version of the augmented reality settings on Apple Vision Pro.

1980s: The first company to sell VR headsets and gloves, VPL Research Inc, is founded.

2021: Mark Zuckerberg rebrands Facebook as Meta and starts focusing the company’s energy on building the metaverse with its Reality Labs Division, but just a year later that segment of the company reports an operating loss of $13.7 billion.

2023: Just as journalists are writing obituaries for the capital-M Metaverse, Apple unveils its mixed reality headsets, the Vision Pro. In early 2024, it sells out in pre-ordering.


The reality of virtual reality

Virtual reality headsets in the 1980s through the 2010s were all about gaming. Mark Zuckerberg placed a big bet on the technology and the metaverse, or the digital space inhabited by those wearing virtual reality headsets, in 2021. But his rebrand of Facebook as Meta was rebuked. Meta’s headsets, which were mostly marketed to consumers, lost the company a lot of money.

While Meta’s louder VR campaign didn’t do so well, the larger corporate market for headsets has quietly grown. A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that half of all U.S. companies used or planned to use virtual reality headsets in 2022. Businesses like Walmart, Verizon, and Intel are using the tech for worker training. Police forces and militaries are using them to learn de-escalation tactics. Universities and hospitals are using headsets as a safer alternative to train surgeons.

Still, there are downsides. VR headsets have been tied to cybersickness — symptoms such as nausea and headaches that occur from being in a virtual reality environment. And research from Iowa State University shows the intensity of cybersickness symptoms for women is 40% higher.

There are also privacy concerns. Apple Vision Pro, for example, “collects more data than any other consumer gadget I’ve ever tried… to track all sorts of things about your body and the people around you and the spaces around you” a Washington Post reporter Geoffrey Fowler told Slate. That could pose big privacy issues for the public down the line once the tech is more mainstream, he said.


Listen up

Check out the Quartz Obsession podcast, season 7, episode 3, VR headsets: We’re practically there for a lot more info about the terribly unattractive headset that maybe — just maybe — will make it into the mainstream someday in the not-so-distant future.

🎧 Listen now on Spotify | Apple | Pandora

👓 Read the full transcript here


Quotable

“I did it because it was interesting to do. I was given access to a computer. I wanted to make drawings on that computer, because I liked drawings, and I liked to make them neat, and the computer delivered that. I did what I did because each step was interesting and technically possible, and clearly gave us access to information in a new way that would obviously be useful, even if how it would be used was not clear.” — Ivan Sutherland about why he created the first virtual reality headset in 1968


Pop quiz

Where aren’t virtual reality headsets in use?

A. Outer space
B. Prisons
C. Nursing homes
D. None of the above

The reality is that the answer is at the bottom of this email.


By the digits

$67.7 billion: Global market size for virtual reality in 2024, projected to grow to $204 billion by 2029

$4.65 billion: Operating loss of Meta’s Reality Labs division in the fourth quarter — more than analysts expected

$3,499: Cost of Apple Vision Pro headset

75%: Share of world’s most valuable companies that had already created their own virtual or augmented reality experience by 2015

51%: U.S. companies that used or planned to use virtual or augmented reality in at least one dedicated line of business as of 2022


Watch this!

Image for article titled VR headsets: Flashy practicality

Screenshot: YouTube

Mark Zuckerberg is trying to convince people that Meta Quest is better than Apple Vision Pro, and takes a dig at its high price point. Apple has carefully avoided crossing paths with Meta in the virtual reality space, mentioning the word “metaverse” literally zero times in its branding of Vision Pro, instead using the term “spatial computing.”


Poll 

If someone gave you $3,500, would you buy an Apple Vision Pro headset?

  • Yes, absolutely
  • Maybe, but I’d consider cheaper alternatives like Meta’s Quest headsets or HTC Vive
  • Absolutely not, that’s rent and gas money

Tell us your plans, and you could win a… just kidding, but do tell us your plan.


💬 Let’s talk!

In last week’s poll about smart rings, 36% of you said your favorite use for a ring was just, you know, jewelry, but coming in at a solid 24% was the cohort who chose poison storage. We knew it.

🐤 X/Tweet this!

🤔 What did you think of today’s email?

💡 What should we obsess over next?


Today’s email was written by Laura Bratton (is real) and edited by Susan Howson (is virtual).

The correct answer to the quiz is D. None of the above! VR headsets are being used in all of these places currently!





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