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Apple plans a slow, appointment-only rollout of Its $3,500 Vision Pro

Apple Inc. is planning a retail launch of its Vision Pro headset with appointments and in-store promotion in select US markets early next year, underscoring the niche and complex nature of the mixed-reality device.

The company will designate special areas in the stores with seating, headset demo units and tools to size accessories for buyers. While the device will be sold at all of Apple’s roughly 270 US locations, the company is planning the sections for the Vision Pro initially at stores in major areas — such as New York and Los Angeles — before rolling them out nationwide, according to people with knowledge of the plans.

Apple said it will offer the headset in other countries at the end of 2024. The company is discussing the UK and Canada as two of its first international markets with Asia and Europe soon after, although a final decision hasn’t been made, according to the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal matters. Apple engineers are working to localize the device for France, Germany, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, the people said.

Apple will also sell the Vision Pro through its US web store in early 2024 before expanding online elsewhere. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the rollout.

The headset, unveiled in June, is Apple’s most significant product since the Apple Watch, but the $3,500 price point, unclear use cases, limited mixed-reality content selection and the nascent nature of the technology means it will appeal to a small group of enthusiasts at the outset. To push the category to more consumers, Apple is working on a cheaper model as well as a second-generation Pro version for release by 2026.

The wearable device mixes virtual and augmented reality, meaning it can engross a user in content with high-resolution displays — ideal for video watching — or put applications on top of the wearer’s field of view, letting messages and notifications pop up without overwhelming the person.

Apple will ask in-store buyers to make an appointment to purchase the Vision Pro. That follows a strategy the company used for the Apple Watch in 2015. The driving force behind the idea is to ensure customers walk out with a product that fits properly. If applicable, the company will ask users for their vision prescription for lens inserts via an online portal.

To determine the right light seal — the component that keeps light out of a wearer’s field of view — Apple is developing an iPhone app that will scan a person’s head as well as a physical machine. Online purchasers will similarly be asked to upload their prescription data and use the face scan app to determine accessory sizing.

People familiar with the retail launch say it will be Apple’s most complex debut to date and will require sorting out tricky supply chain logistics, training salespeople how to set up the device and teaching customers how to use it. To that end, the company doesn’t anticipate partnering with third-party resellers to offer the Vision Pro until at least 2025. Most stores will feature only one to two demo units at the outset due to limited supply and the high cost of the devices.

Years ago, Apple anticipated building as many as high-single-digit millions of units in its first year before paring back expectations to closer to 1 million. Ahead of its introduction, Apple sliced that number to about 900,000 units. The Financial Times reported earlier this week that the goal has been cut in half due to the device’s complex manufacturing process. The Vision Pro has dual 4K micro-OLED displays, in addition to curved internal electronics and dual chips.

Beyond the device itself, the accompanying accessories also present logistical challenges, the people familiar with the process said. The company has said it will offer head bands and light seals in multiple different sizes, which retail stores will need to carry. Different consumers may need vastly different sizes, meaning stores will need to offer extra accessories if, say, a person wants to let someone else try their device or if their face size changes.

Apple has partnered with Carl Zeiss AG to make the optional prescription lenses for the device, and Apple stores will need to keep in stock hundreds or thousands of lenses. The task becomes more complex in cases where a user may have different prescriptions for each eye.

Outside of the light seal and head band, the Vision Pro includes a similar charger to the one included with the MacBook Pro as well as the two-hour external battery pack.

During testing of the device, Apple determined that some people with smaller body sizes and heads would struggle to wear the headset for more than half an hour or so, the amount of time the company let media members test the Vision Pro after its introduction. Apple looked to offset that issue with the recent development of a second strap that sits across the top of a user’s head. The design of that accessory isn’t finalized.

Apple has also investigated how the Vision Pro would fit for people wearing cultural apparel, such as a hijab. Aware that some customers may not wear clothes with pockets capable of storing the battery pack, the company has considered asking accessory makers to create shoulder-worn pouches.

Other accessories could eventually be sold to protect the device. The company has found that the front of the headset could be prone to scratches, but it will likely outsource screen protectors to third-party makers as it does with its other products. Another concern: the front glass cracking if a user walks into a wall or an object. To help prevent such incidents, Apple has built in alerts to deter people from wearing the device while walking at certain speeds.

For those traveling fast — such as in a car or airplane — the company has developed what is known as Travel Mode. This allows a passenger to be fully immersed in virtual reality without limitations.

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