News All Over Your Face

Sometimes we all want a bit of escapism and we especially want a break from the news. It has long been thought that AR/VR devices, and the metaverse they let users enter, could help provide such an experience through gaming and other immersive work. However, that could flip and your news could be delivered right to your face. Perish the thought.

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Let’s not get overexcited. A new report from the Reuters Institute found that out of the 314 news leaders surveyed, only 12% thought that smart glasses were the most likely to overtake smartphones as a news consumption device. Only 4% thought the metaverse, including VR headsets, would do so.

However, the report noted:

New tools are now making the creation process quicker and new standards such as Web XR allow content to be published once but accessed across devices from a watch to a mobile phone to an Apple Vision Pro.

Apple announced yesterday that its Vision Pro headset will be available (in the US) from 2nd February at the small cost of $3499, with pre-orders available from 19th January. Forgive me, but at that price point, I can’t get too excited.

Indeed, despite the new devices and standards mentioned by the Reuters Institute, I’m rather dubious about how much headsets and glasses are going to influence the news ecosystem, at least in the short term. Unlike with other digital tools, the barrier to entry is high for both news producers and consumers. 

Furthermore, the amount of investment news providers bother to put into AR/VR/spatial computing devices will be influenced by how many people buy the headsets in the first place. There is nothing wrong with getting ahead of the game, but given the actual sales numbers for headsets, alongside everything else going on in the media, it doesn’t seem to be something the industry needs to prioritise particularly. Per CNBC:

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Sales of VR headsets and augmented reality glasses in the U.S. plummeted nearly 40% to $664 million in 2023, as of Nov. 25, according to data shared with CNBC by research firm Circana.

I’ve also always struggled with the idea that we will all walk around with glasses strapped to our faces in digitally enhanced environments. Or not walk around at all. But I guess none of us thought we’d all walk around with powerful computers and high-quality cameras in our pockets either…

I’m not surprised to see that 41% of those surveyed had the most confidence in voice-activated hearables such as smart speakers and Bluetooth headphones. You can already ask Siri and Alexa to do so on various bits of kit.

A key part of where all this goes is dependent on the hardware makers. Does Apple WANT the Vision Pro to be a news consumption device? Meta has already shown hesitancy around the news with some of its other products, is that going to change with smartglasses or the Quest range of headsets?

It seems highly unlikely that there will be no news in the metaverse. Equally, it will probably take a while for it to be a major concern.

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