Apple’s Imaginative and prescient Professional might give Europe’s XR kingpin a lift — a minimum of within the quick time period

The Vision Pro arrived with a bang. At the launch event in California, Apple CEO Tim Cook described the new headset as a “revolutionary” device that heralded a “new era in spatial computing.” While these are bold claims, Apple’s track record gives them credibility.

The tech giant has already redefined music players, tablets, laptops, desktops, smartwatches and headphones. Analysts announce it now an “iPhone moment” for Extended Reality (XR).

Across the Atlantic, the launch of Europe’s XR kingpin: Varjo was closely watched. The Helsinki-based startup claims to produce the world’s most advanced VR and XR. But it now faces competition from the largest company on the planet.

The Vision Pro is scheduled to go on sale in early 2024. Photo credit: Apple

When Apple announced the price of the Vision Pro, the announcement was big an audible gasp from the audience. For a whopping $3,499 (€3,238), the headset is strictly for big spenders. But the impressive specs, mix of VR and AR, and focus beyond gaming made the difference comparisons with an even more expensive device: Varjos 6,495 € XR-3.

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Nonetheless, Varjo (Varjo (pronounced “var-yo”)) remains optimistic. Rather than seeing the Vision Pro entry as a threat, the company hopes Apple’s arrival will boost the sector.

“Apple’s entry into XR with Vision Pro is an important moment for our entire industry,” said Urho Konttori, CTO and co-founder of Varjo.

“Mixed reality is already a staple in the corporate sector… We hope today will be the tipping point for consumers as it begins to become part of their everyday lives, with promising applications for entertainment, personal productivity and communication.”

Such positive public opinion was expected of Varjo. But it was reflected in the minds of outside experts.

XR-3According to Varjo, the XR-3 offers “the most immersive mixed reality experience ever created”. Photo credit: Varjo

“I expect Vision Pro will largely create opportunities for other companies, at least in the short term, by raising the profile of XR generally,” Sam Dale, a technology analyst at market research firm IDTechE, told TNW. “This includes Varjo, which I think appeals to a much different type of customer than Vision Pro.”

In fact, Varjo has focused on companies with high standards. According to the company, more than a quarter of Fortune 100 companies, as well as various government agencies, now use Varjo. The Vision Pro has since been advertised as a more general purpose computing system, suited to use cases ranging from a workstation to an entertainment device.

“We save a lot of time and money.

Varjo has dispensed with these consumer applications. All of the company’s customers have sky-high requirements – sometimes literally. In aviation, the technology is used to train pilots without the need for long trips and expensive simulators. In 2021, the system for civil aviation training in the EU was certified – a confirmation that competing products will not receive overnight.

Varjo also had to overcome major barriers to entry in other sectors, such as defense and automotive. According to the company, 15 of the world’s 20 largest automakers are now using the technology to build and sell their vehicles. Again, the savings can be huge – but only if the XR accurately reflects reality.

“You see every contour of the car, you see every chip of paint,” Varjo CEO Timo Toikkanen told TNW. “We obviously save a lot of time and money with this process.”

Timo ToikkanenToikkanen was a senior executive at Finnish phone giant Nokia before joining Varjo. Photo credit: Shadow

The effects were certainly impressive in our demo of the technology. On a sunny day in London, England, TNW tested the XR-3 at the offices of VC firm Atomico, which led a $31 million investment round in Varjo in 2018.

After putting on and calibrating the headset, a photorealistic sports car appeared on the meeting room floor. With hand gestures, we unlocked the doors to admire the interior of the vehicle.

Seconds later we were in the transported to the legendary Silverstone race track. The same car parked in front of our eyes, but now reflecting its virtual environment.

Aside from the sunlight hitting the display, the experience was remarkably lifelike. Image resolution, field of view, depth perception, and eye and hand tracking were superior to any other XR device we’ve tried. But then again, we’ve yet to try the Vision Pro.

Varjo headsets include the Mixed Reality XR-3, Varjo VR-3, and Varjo AeroVarjo headsets include the Mixed Reality XR-3 (center) and two virtual reality devices: the VR-3 (left) and the Aero (right). Photo credit: Varjo

Apple’s XR device has impressed both early adopters and analysts. But the technique differs markedly from Varjo’s.

Dale points out that Varjo headsets are wired to external gaming PCs for processing power. However, the Vision Pro does this internally. That makes it more portable and the performance is considerable. But even Apple’s high-end silicon probably won’t match the performance of elite PCs.

“I think it’s primarily a developer device.

Another difference is that the Vision Pro is more of a personal system. People with poor eyesight require prescription inserts, further individual adjustments may be required. In contrast, Varjo’s headsets can be worn over glasses and shared between multiple users.

“Varjo’s headsets will likely surpass the Vision Pro in top-of-the-line image quality, but at the cost of high hardware complexity, added weight, and a price tag of at least the same magnitude,” said Dale.

Companies have also taken different routes to their ecosystems. Varjo’s hardware relies on a broader, more open network of partners, including Steam for base stations. The system interface with external user tracking hardware

Apple’s headset, on the other hand, keeps everything self-contained within Apple’s own ecosystem. That will appeal to many existing Apple users and developers, but could create new hurdles for enterprise customers. These companies often have complex requirements and established systems outside of the Apple empire.

The shadeFounded in 2016, Varjo has a commercial lead over Apple. Photo credit: Varjo

Over time, Apple could shift its focus to cheaper devices, mass consumption, and new segments. There is already reports that the company plans to launch a cheaper headset by the end of 2025. Experts assume that the Vision Pro is just a first step into augmented reality.

That’s the prediction of Tom Furness, one of the industry’s foremost luminaries. Known as the “grandfather” of VR and AR, Furness built the first helmet-mounted displays used by US Air Force pilots. He anticipates Apple will use the Vision Pro to refine XR plans.

“I think it’s primarily a developer device,” Furness said at the TNW conference.

Varjo will be keeping a close eye on progress. As an established player with a strong customer base in highly specialized industries, the company has found a niche that Apple has yet to target.

While Apple’s unparalleled resources make it a threat to any established XR vendor, Varjo remains confident that the Vision Pro will revitalize the entire sector — at least for now.

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