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What Apple’s Vision Pro headset means for the metaverse

Apple announced its new Vision Pro mixed reality headset. What does this headset mean for the metaverse? Jeremy Bailenson, Stanford University Professor of Communications, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how people should be using VR.

Video transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, keeping the conversation going here. Could Apple's Vision Pro headset be the push needed to take the metaverse mainstream? Joining us now is Jeremy Bailenson, a metaverse enthusiast and Stanford University professor of communications. Jeremy, to call you an enthusiast is probably understating it. You have been studying this technology for years. You teach a course in virtual reality. Your first impression on what Apple launched yesterday or unveiled yesterday.

JEREMY BAILENSON: Thank you, Akiko. And I am a VR scholar. And I spend all day thinking about and working in VR. That being said, I'm not an enthusiast. I believe VR is an amazing thing for very special experiences. I'm not a person that believes you should use VR every day or for hours per day.

We in the lab, we use VR for things that are dangerous to do in the real world. For example, training a firefighter. Or impossible changing your body to understand walking a mile in another person's shoes. We don't believe VR is a tool that you should use for everything. So I love VR, but I don't love VR for everyday hours per day use. I think it's a different kind of medium than people are used to.

AKIKO FUJITA: Why not, Jeremy? Just to spend a little bit more just about why you're not a fan of that prolonged use and maybe some of the risks that you see associated with it.

JEREMY BAILENSON: Yes, when we talk about the downsides of VR, we talk about, first of all, simulator sickness. Of the reporters who've tried it. Dan sounds like you had a great experience but a few people that I've talked to after 15, 20 minutes were feeling a little bit dizzy, a little bit wonky.

We talk about being distracted from the real world. So how does a family dinner change when I'm sitting at the table wearing these goggles, and you know, I can't even make eye contact with other people because I'm wearing these goggles. And so-- which is not to say-- to vilify the medium. I love VR, I love AR, but it's not something like a phone. A phone has engagement that we use for hours on end. VR is perceptually taxing. It distracts you from the real world.

So we should save it for experiences that are special. And to give you an example of that, my company striver were in every single Walmart in the country, we're in every single Bank of America, and employees they go in the back room, and they train they put on the headset, they practice having a difficult conversation with someone else. They figure out what to do when an active shooter comes in the room, how to move their bodies. And these are really intense rare experiences, but they pay off.

And I always say VR is an amazing thing for these kind of dangerous, impossible intense experiences. But if you're reading your email in VR, you might as well just be using your phone. I just don't get why we need to see 2D screens while wearing a headset.

AKIKO FUJITA: But Jeremy, that point that you just made, not being able to make eye contact in VR, not being able to see what's around you in VR. I mean, doesn't that point to why what Apple announced yesterday, it could be that next level. We have heard for years that it's not about VR. It's about mixing reality with AR. And that's what apple seem to have--

JEREMY BAILENSON: Yeah, from a technological standpoint, I love that they're including other people. I love that they're showing other people my eyes and that they're highlighting third people in the room to bring them in. That's all fantastic. That being said, all of us have experienced being at the dinner table, someone who's on the phone instead of being engaged, and what's going to happen when you see that beautiful landscape behind you and we're trying to have a conversation together.

So I believe they pulled out an amazing technological feat. The question becomes, as we think about development and all of the money Apple and others have spent on trying to make VR into an everyday device, just because we can be doing this daily does it mean we should be.

And all of the research we've done in the lab, you mentioned that I taught an entire class in the metaverse where we had over 600 Stanford students have spent about a half a million shared minutes together in VR, and we know what works and what doesn't work. And the answer is less is more. VR is amazing when you're using it sparingly. Even when you've got great technology because we've got technology in the lab that's different from the consumer grade. Just because you can have this really immersive experience doesn't mean you need to do it every day.

And it's going to be a challenge for the technology companies to get a return on investment once they realize that the philosophy Dan that you talked about. We're going to see what the developers can come up with. I like that thinking. But we've had about a decade now developers coming up with stuff. And there is some amazing stuff, but there's still quite a dearth of content that's engaging, and it's going to be a challenge.

AKIKO FUJITA: Jeremy, do you think Apple is going to change the conversation around AR and VR? Because I think one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to VR is people have such a tough time wrapping their heads around exactly what this mean. Now that a name like Apple is now ventured into this space, I guess how receptive do you think the general public is going to be to a device like this?

JEREMY BAILENSON: Look, we've all got to try it. And Dan had a great experience, and others I've talked to I've had there's been a range. But I've been in the VR space for 25 years now. And I've seen headsets come and go, and I've seen big names come and go. Google got in, and arguably they got out. And I don't know the answer to that.

I do know that more than anyone, Apple's got a dedicated enough user base that they can solve this chicken and the egg problem, which is get enough people in there. People want to do that simply because they're familiar with those icons and those apps and content. So they certainly have that advantage.

That being said, I'm fairly jaded from 25 years of one magic headset going to cause VR to go from a thing that should be done for special occasions to an everyday engagement tool. I just don't see that.

AKIKO FUJITA: I mean, with that said, does Meta's approach make more sense? I mean, we're still waiting on the quest three. The price point alone would make that product a little more attractive. We don't know how the technology compares to Apple, but they seem to be pushing for an experience that really is completely virtual and maybe not as seamless as what Apple has.

JEREMY BAILENSON: Look, it really depends, in my opinion, on your philosophy here. So when you use VR, complete mental transportation, you can have an educational experience that inspires all where you travel somewhere, you can go back in time. You can, as I said, change your body to understand what it's like to be a different age different skin color. You can have a training situation where you really feel like you're there, and you practice your body movements. That's a philosophy of immersion and mental transportation.

What Apple's trying to do, and to some extent, Meta is trying to do this too, is how can you make it so that people can see the real world and spend lots of time in there. I will say that despite a lot of great rhetoric and great video presentation, there's nothing that Apple was doing other than great implementation that others aren't trying to do too. They just have, like they tend to do with products, have just done a crushingly good job on the technology itself.

AKIKO FUJITA: OK. Jeremy Bailenson. Always good to get your perspective on this. Stanford professor of communications appreciate the time.

JEREMY BAILENSON: Thanks for having me. Have a great one.