In 2010, ESPN launched a 3D channel with the hope that sports fans would put on some weird-looking glasses and enjoy events and shows broadcasted in 3D.
How’d that go? About how you’d expect.
ESPN3D discontinued by year end. Even with strong production, a lack of demand from majority of consumers. Thanks for your loyalty.
— ESPN 3D (@ESPN3D) June 12, 2013
Ten years later, there’s been a lot of technological advancement in the 3D space. But, to be honest, there’s been little to modest amounts of adoption (and, moreso, profits). But Apple is now hoping that America is finally ready to buy expensive goggles and do things with them.
To Apple’s credit, they’ve long been the best company at getting consumers to adopt new technologies. And they do have a quite an army of loyalists who often melt when they announce new products. Below is the promotional video they rolled out this week for their Vision Pro googles.
Welcome to the era of spatial computing with Apple Vision Pro. You’ve never seen anything like this before! pic.twitter.com/PEIxKNpXBs
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) June 5, 2023
It’s pretty easy to dismiss the likelihood of VR/AR becoming a mainstream technology anytime, given the price tag and the lack of interest many consumers have shown for virtual products. Google, Facebook, and many others have tried and really failed here. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, lost nearly $14 billion last year alone on their efforts, and is believed to have cumulatively lost $56 billion. That’s a number that’s absolutely insane to try to wrap your head around.
But again, this is Apple. And maybe, just maybe, even with their $3,500 price tag for these goggles, Apple is going to be the company to jumpstart a trend here. They did that with the iPhone, tablets, music players, buying media online, and so forth.
And it’s not just Apple’s reputation that has some optimism here. Dozens of tech journalists were given demos with the googles and unlike other VR headsets and uses, many came away REALLY excited about what the future holds here. Tech blogger John Gruber was among those who got to try the googles out, and specifically cited a couple of sports media-specific demos that impressed him.
“Lastly, we saw two sports demos: an at-bat from a baseball game at Fenway Park (Phil Schiller’s hands are all over that one), and a scoring play from a Nuggets-Suns NBA basketball game. For the baseball game, the perspective wasn’t even from the stands, but rather from the home team’s dugout, ground level, right behind first base. It’s not quite just like being there, but it’s a lot like being there. It’s more realistic than seems possible. You choose where to direct your gaze: at the batter at home plate, at the pitcher, or out in the outfield. Or above the outfielders, at the scoreboard.
For the NBA game, the perspective was courtside, right behind the basket. But better than the actual courtside perspective, because the perspective was slightly elevated above seating level. Fully immersive, fully three-dimensional, and seemingly perfectly to scale. Kevin Durant looked about 6’10”, right in front of me. Getting the scale just right is obviously the correct way to present this, but it seems devilishly tricky to actually pull off. Apple has pulled it off. These baseball and basketball scenes were shot by Apple using entirely custom camera rigs, and stored in altogether new file formats. This is nothing at all like 2D footage extrapolated into 3D, or just painted on a virtual circular wall around you. It looks real. It seems as profoundly different from watching regular TV telecasts of sports as TV telecasts are from audio-only radio broadcasts.2 It was incredible. I would genuinely consider buying a Vision Pro if the one and only thing it did was show entire sporting events like this.”
$3,500 is a ton of money for most people. You’d think over time, that would come down. But still…that’s a ton of money. Putting that aside, this does indeed sound cool. Front-row tickets also cost a lot of money, and it sounds like Apple is hoping you could experience a game even closer than just having a spectator vantage point (which has been done with some NBA VR efforts already).
If down the road the price tag for these goggles, was, let’s say, $1,000 (and maybe you had to subscribe to get access to a service that let you immersively watch games like you were there), that’s honestly something a good chunk of fans might consider. Fans already go to bars or watch parties for the environment. So perhaps there is a market for fans wanting to feel something more exciting than a sterile living room.
When could that be a reality? ESPN took a crack at this in 2010, thinking the future was near. It was definitely not.
This still seems like a thing nobody really wants. And getting this to be a real thing would take a lot of investment, adoption, and partner cooperation to make a reality. But again how many successful products and services has Apple launched where you would have said the same thing? Perhaps Apple may find success where Disney failed. Or perhaps this is just a pipe dream that will never materialize into a fad, let alone a viable business.