Apple unveiled its long-awaited “mixed reality” headset on Monday, in its most anticipated hardware product launch since Steve Jobs revealed the iPad in 2010.

The gadget, called Vision Pro, will be available “early next year”. It combines virtual reality with augmented reality, which overlays digital images on top of the real world. Apple said it would sell for $3,499, even more than most analysts had expected and nearly 12 times the price of Meta’s Quest 2, the biggest-selling VR headset.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the headset would be used for “seamlessly blending the real world with the digital world”, and was “the first Apple product you look through and not at”. In a sign that Apple does not expect the device to become a big seller in the near-term, he said the launch represented “the beginning of a journey” to what the company calls “spatial computing”, predicting that it would one day become as important as personal computing on the Mac and the iPhone’s introduction of mobile computing.

In a pre-recorded video demonstration shown at the start of its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple showed the headset being used to play video games, watch entertainment on large “virtual” screens and collaborate by working jointly on documents and watching multiple video calls.

The price of the device and a narrow range of applications is expected to limit its use in the early years to gaming and a range of specialised workplace uses. The headset is also aimed at software developers, who Apple hopes will create a wider range of VR and AR applications.

Apple shares hit a record high ahead of the announcement, rising more than 2 per cent to $184.91 and topping the previous record set in January 2022, before falling back as the headset was unveiled.

Apple geared the device towards white-collar workers, saying it would be “the ultimate workspace”. But, in a move that surprised analysts who expected the product to be aimed primarily at business users, Apple showed people looking at photos and videos, reading documents and surfing the web.

Apple said the Vision Pro could be “your own personal movie theatre”, with a “100-feet wide” screen and automatic dimming of the real world around the screen. Its demonstrations mainly showed people using the headset to watch two-dimensional screens, in contrast to the full three-dimensional virtual worlds created by Meta.

Bob Iger, Walt Disney chief executive, called Vision Pro “a revolutionary platform” and said it would allow Disney to create content that hasn’t been possible before. A video made with Disney showed Mickey Mouse jumping out of a photo frame and into the wearer’s living room, leaping on to the furniture. However, the only service Disney announced for the device at launch was its existing Disney Plus video streaming content.

Apple’s revenue is expected to fall 2 per cent in its current fiscal year, which ends in September, and most analysts expect it to sell only about 200,000 Vision Pro headsets in the first year. However, Wall Street is hoping that the device will become a solid contributor to Apple’s revenue within five years, with the potential to one day become the most significant computing platform since the launch of the iPhone. 

At the start of its annual conference on Monday, Apple also announced faster versions of the Mac studio desktop, a 15-inch MacBook Air, and the first Mac Pro with “Apple Silicon” — completing its multiyear phaseout of Intel chips across its entire portfolio. It promised its newest computers would offer “outrageous performance”.

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