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The one big mistake Apple made with its Vision Pro headset

The Apple Vision Pro reveals the wearer's eyes on a front-facing display.
Apple

Apple made one big mistake during the Vision Pro’s launch: No one onstage wore it or was pictured doing so afterward. Instead, only models in the carefully curated video presentation had it on their faces — entirely removing us as observers from the experience. In fact, we haven’t seen any real people wearing it at all.

It’s a very stark contrast to Samsung’s big VR push almost a decade ago, and Apple would be very wise to learn from its archnemesis if it wants the odd-looking Vision Pro not to be treated with extreme caution by normal people.

Samsung, Oculus, and the Gear VR

Man with tattoos using Samsung Gear VR
Image used with permission by copyright holder

I know what you’re thinking: Samsung had a big VR push? Yes! In 2014, it launched the Gear VR headset alongside the Galaxy Note 4 smartphone. Unlike the Apple Vision Pro, the Gear VR was a “dumb” headset where the screen and processor came from a smartphone plugged into the front. It started off only supporting the Galaxy Note 4, but Samsung continued updating it for other Galaxy phones until the Galaxy S9 series.

Right from the start, Samsung didn’t shy away from getting its VR headset on a lot of heads, including those of some very high-profile people, and showing it off in the resulting photos. It also did this nearly a decade ago, when consumer VR headsets were still in their infancy, and the visual image of someone wearing one was a lot more jarring than today. Sure, people looked silly, but it’s a VR headset. Everyone looks silly wearing one.

Not only did we get accustomed to seeing them quite quickly, but the descriptive words, the smiles, and the immediate, genuine reactions made by people when they first put them on really helped positively influence what we thought about the headset and experience. That’s not to mention that the downright sci-fi coolness of personally doing so quickly made you forget you had a smartphone strapped to your noggin.

People used the Gear VR onstage

Samsung Unpacked 2014 episode 2 IFA Berlin 2014 - Galaxy Note 4, Gear VR, Gear S

Gear VR’s first introduction was quite low-key. The Galaxy Note 4 took center stage during the IFA 2014 Unpacked event in Berlin, with the Gear VR  — developed in partnership with Oculus — being demonstrated right at the end of the hourlong presentation. But the thing is, Gear VR was right there, and one of the presenters couldn’t wait to put it on and try it for all to see. Unsurprisingly, she did what we all do the first few times we try VR. She said, “Oh,” “Ah,” and “Wow.” And, most importantly, she smiled. We couldn’t see her eyes, but it was obvious she was enjoying the VR experience. It was raw, real, and relatable.

Apple’s Vision Pro debuted in a very different way. From the beautiful living spaces to the clothes worn by the models, the impression of everyday life presented in the Vision Pro’s launch video was likely nothing like any of our lives at all. It was so clinically precise that it bordered on the dystopian. It was our only glimpse of what the headset looks like on someone’s head, as no one onstage wore it, journalists who tried it afterward weren’t allowed to take pictures, and even CEO Tim Cook was simply photographed standing next to the headset.

how to watch YouTube on a Gear VR
Samsung Gear VR Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why? It’s clearly suitable for people to wear, as it was demonstrated behind closed doors, so is it all to do with Apple’s desire not to have hundreds — perhaps thousands — of photos online where people look a bit silly wearing it? If so, that’s odd, as the design is the design, and if people are going to look ridiculous with it on their heads, that’s not going to change between now and its launch in 2024. Apple should be normalizing the appearance immediately. It’s almost like Apple is a bit embarrassed.

It needs lots of photos of people wearing one

The Samsung Gear VR used during Samsung's MWC 2016 Unpacked event.
The Samsung Gear VR used during Samsung’s MWC 2016 Unpacked event Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Samsung wasn’t embarrassed by the Gear VR at all, which it went on to prove in 2016, and it’s this event Apple would be very wise indeed to look back on as a hint of how to launch a VR headset. The location was again a Samsung Unpacked event, but this time at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) technology trade show in Barcelona, Spain. Hundreds of invited media, partners, and guests gathered there, and hidden under every seat in the auditorium was a special Gear VR headset, which everyone was invited to put on at a particular point during the presentation.

Everyone wore it, everyone took selfies, everyone had fun with it, and everyone was excited. The energy in that huge space was so positively charged that not one person felt silly or embarrassed. Instead, it felt futuristic and was an inspired demonstration of the technology. I was there, and although we had no idea at the time, as we stared into the virtual world before our eyes, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, fresh from his acquisition of Oculus, was striding toward the stage past the headset-wearing masses.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at MWC 2016, with the Gear VR headset.
Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook

Zuckerberg has since become the face of the metaverse, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but there are images from that 2016 event, like the one above, which could be considered iconic in the world of tech.

No such image exists of the Apple Vision Pro — just the one of Cook standing a respectful distance away from it at the event. It’s not really the same thing. The massive cost of the Vision Pro already creates a barrier, and introducing another one through intentional physical separation makes things even worse.

There’s still time, but it’s a weird start

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wearing a Samsung Gear VR headset.
Meta Quest/Twitter

It wasn’t a new version of Gear VR that launched at that 2016 event, so Apple still has plenty of time to do something similar during the months leading up to the Vision Pro’s actual release. But it’s hard not to think there’s something very wrong with the way it looks on faces that don’t belong to models specifically chosen to star in Apple’s launch video. There was never any worry or ambiguity like that with Gear VR, and that’s the mistake Apple must rectify.

If Samsung (unintentionally) showed Apple how to properly announce a VR headset years ago, where is Gear VR today? It’s unfortunately long dead, having been discontinued in 2020, and it’s a product that Samsung hasn’t revisited since. It’s now going to be interesting to see if it has a response to the Vision Pro in development and, if so, how it chooses to launch such a device in the future. Samsung succeeded where Apple failed before and could realistically do so again.

In all honesty, it will be able to claim a win if even one photo of a regular person wearing that future Samsung headset is published right after the launch event.

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Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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