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Apple Passes on the Metaverse, but Makes a Play for the Enterprise?
With Vision Pro’s release, Apple was pointed in avoiding any reference to the metaverse. But its serious focus on leveraging the platform to power the future of work in the enterprise was a surprise.
Last week, the world waited in eager anticipation for Apple to make its foray into the metaverse with its first augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headset, Vision Pro. Alas, the company never uttered the word metaverse. And while it clearly delivered an AR/VR headset, the big surprise may be what its entrance into what it calls the spatial computing market means for enterprise leaders.
When most people think of the metaverse, they think of it in terms of either a virtual world or gaming. Running a distant third is the idea of working in the metaverse. Meta has made some noise with its Workplace offering and Microsoft made some tepid steps in this direction, but neither has gotten much traction.
After the initial hype, the idea of working in the metaverse — mostly in the form of virtual, avatar-based meetings — was largely dismissed as a solution looking for a problem.
All of this makes Apple’s heavy focus on the work aspect of Vision Pro so fascinating — and potentially game-changing for the enterprise.
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Apple’s Future of Work Vision
Most early analysis has identified three primary use cases Apple seemed to be putting forward for Vision Pro:
For media consumption
As a means of connection
As a new computing and work medium
Much of the media focus has been on the first two aspects (and its impact on the burgeoning metaverse), but little attention has been paid to the last — and I’d argue most potentially revolutionary — use case: the reshaping of how we work.
The future of work is another buzzword that the company did not mention during its announcement keynote, but the release of Vision Pro represents the company’s vision of exactly how work may change in the future. It represents a fundamental transition in how we leverage technology to perform work.
This isn’t Apple’s take on the metaverse—a world that, even though it doesn’t exist yet, has already developed a reputation for being foreign and foreboding. Instead, it’s the Apple environment millions of people already know—part of a platform of platforms that already spans everything from the computers on people’s desks to the phones in their pockets to the watches on their wrists.
Apple is presenting Vision Pro as a fundamentally new approach to how we interface with our computing platform — a new approach that cannot help but change how the modern knowledge worker functions.
It is the fundamental nature of this shift (if it succeeds) that much of the early analysis has missed.
Apple’s Vision Pro Through an Enterprise Lens
Much of the early analysis has been impressed with the technology — and skeptical that consumers will be willing to wear these high-tech ski goggles with any regularity.
The consistent challenges that Meta’s Quest, Microsoft’s HoloLens, and Google Glass before them all point to this fact.
Kate Knibb’s criticism in Wired was particularly blunt:
As my colleague Boone Ashworth recently reported, there’s ample evidence that people don’t want to spend lots of time wearing this type of device, for aesthetic reasons (snorkel mask for dorks), practical reasons (cumbersome, activity-limiting), and for social reasons (it’s an isolation chamber you slide over your eyes to experience an individualized simulacrum of the world instead of our shared reality).
But I think this perspective misses the point — at least in terms of its impact on how we work.
Despite the recent pullback in remote work, with some companies demanding workers be back in the office at least some of the time, the fact remains that a higher and continually growing percentage of knowledge workers will spend more time working remotely.
Moreover, even when workers are in the office, much modern work is solitary in nature, unless they are actively collaborating in some way. Workers may be back in the office, but much of their work involves them working alone in an office or cubicle interacting with their devices.
In both of these scenarios, the deterrents that Knibb calls out don’t apply — particularly when weighed against the powerful benefits and transformative power this technology may offer for enterprise knowledge workers.
Vision Pro May Transform Knowledge Work
The most interesting thing about Apple’s announcement was the emphasis that it placed on using its new spatial computing platform to improve both productivity and the employee’s work experience.
It is these two factors that have been the driving force behind enterprise interest in the metaverse — and which have been almost completely unfulfilled.
As Isabelle Bousquette points out in a Wall Street Journal article, Apple endeavored to show how the Vision Pro might change that:
Apple showed the headset being used in work environments, including an ability to project a screen akin to a modern desktop in a way that could replace a computer monitor. The device is capable of allowing users to experience virtual reality and digital apps overlaid on the real world.
As Apple demonstrated, this new interface and approach to computing have the potential to leverage immersion to create greater focus and higher levels of productivity, particularly when office workers need a little isolation in order to focus on intense activities.
Additionally, the ability to have nearly limitless screens and to place different pieces of content in “different places” may fundamentally change how workers interact with and segment work. Add in the ability to dynamically collaborate with both in-person and remote workers and you have the makings for the most fundamental shift in how knowledge workers function since the dawn of the modern office building.
The question for enterprise IT leaders is what to make of all of this both now and in the near future.
What Enterprise IT Leaders Need to Think About
There is plenty of reason to be skeptical about the real-world applicability of Vision Pro. The spotty history of its predecessors, the challenge of introducing a new computing paradigm, and the lofty price tag would all seem to stack the deck against its success.
Still, Apple has a long history of bucking the odds — and is willing to play the long game once it has committed to a lane.
While I think it’s clear that there’s plenty to question and much will change as this space evolves, I believe that Apple’s entrance into the market — and its stunning technology execution — is a validation the market needed.
Moreover, I believe that as the product makes it into the market and people begin experimenting with it, it will break through the metaverse’s biggest challenge: closing the imagination gap.
Right now, most knowledge workers can’t imagine what a different form of digital work experience might actually look and feel like. The Vision Pro will change that and, in doing so, will help to overcome some of the mental barriers that Knibb rightly pointed out.
Most importantly, it will open the doors for enterprise IT executives to begin reimagining entire work paradigms in ways that can simultaneously provide better worker experiences, improve productivity, and reduce costs.
I have long been a proponent of the metaverse in the enterprise setting. We are clearly still in the very early days, but I believe Apple’s entrance is the beginning of a major shift and it’s one that every enterprise IT executive should be watching very closely.