Apple Vision Pro: A Lesson in Customer Lifetime Value

By Emily Olman Emily Olman has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on April 22, 2024

While most of Western Europe was blanketed by a heavy January snow, on January 19th I was at work emceeing the last day of the AUREA Award [See: Spawning into the IRL Metaverse at Europapark’s AUREA Award]. But I knew that as soon as the clock hit 14:00 CET aka 5am PST, I would briefly retreat to preorder the Apple Vision Pro (AVP) for launch day.

Preorders opened and I moved through the prompts, quickly scanning my face to confirm the order, and went decisively for the recommended in-store pick-up. Mission accomplished, back to business.

In 2017 when AR Kit and AR Core launched, I co-founded a spatial computing company (RIP SpatialFirst) to build an app for the next computing interface – the spatial interface. We were too early, but the launch of AR Kit was a clear statement that AR was going to be a big part of Apple’s future computing efforts, and if the past is prologue, that every future Apple innovation would build on this launch. We had all been waiting for this moment, talking about it for years, and it was finally here.

Olman waits for AVP preorders to open. Photo credit: Athena Demos

To put this into perspective, Apple has been part of my personal computing toolset since the Apple IIe arrived in school libraries across the country in the 1980’s. I got my first Mac (used) to write my college thesis on…wait for it…cyborgs! Eventually I would build my business with Apple products at the center of communications and media: iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple Watch, and even CarPlay. My CLV, or Customer Lifetime Value to Apple is high; not Gensler high, but it indexes higher due to the fact that I rely on the products for just about everything. So what about CLV, and how does Apple Vision Pro fit in?

During my studies, Professor Peter Wilton, lectured about this formula in marketing – that the long tail of Customer Lifetime Value or a customer’s “CLV” for short – is the real question at hand. It’s not the price of the initial sale that we are focused on in this exercise, it’s the value of all sales you will make to that person over a lifetime. And if that number, compared to the cost of acquiring that customer, is an integer greater than 1, well then it is likely a marketing spend worth making.

CLV

So if you stay brand loyal and continue to buy a company’s products for decades, you’ll fall into the category of consumer that product marketers will work the hardest to attract. Along the way you may become what Professor Wilton, who has worked as a consultant to Apple, somewhat sardonically refers to as a “Happy Prisoner” [Apple, Innovation, and Happy Prisoners] someone who is very happy to remain in the Apple ecosystem because all of the products work together, and typically work together exceptionally well. Someone for whom switching costs in either direction, both into an ecosystem, or from an existing ecosystem, are high.

So the Apple ecosystem/CLV is a real thing, and not until you are exploring the Apple Vision Pro will you see that this is how Apple has iterated on computing as a whole, not just VR. One step further, the business model through the lens of CLV makes so much sense for Apple. If you use another business school metaphor, you’ll know the launch of the AVP symbolizes not just getting a bigger slice of the “pie”, but making the whole pie itself bigger, so you benefit regardless of your slice.

While Apple is likely not just playing for a bigger slice of pie, the AVP unquestionably fills the criteria of innovation that Apple is really known for; solving a customer pain point and innovating on it with ease of use and superb design. So if this is true, then what actually is the product being innovated on here? Will it serve to grow the pie, or just to take a portion of the would-be revenues allocated for exploring XR?

I would argue that since AVP is Apple’s first wearable computer, the product being innovated upon here is Apple Computers – not necessarily the headsets that other manufacturers are making. Why? Well, for me, as a longtime user, the problem that it solves was that for the last ten years all of my XR experiences except WebXR, have been outside of the Apple toolset. The pain point, the thing that was missing, was the “Appleness” itself. I wasn’t necessarily missing another gaming console, but I was missing the thing that ties all of my other Apple products together in a head’s up display.

The pain point of not having access to our apps in headset meant we couldn’t really work the way we wanted to across other devices, or perhaps, we weren’t motivated enough to do it. Voices of VR Host, Kent Bye, in one of his first AVP reviews on LinkedIn mentions, “​​The first caveat is that the AVP will be even better if you’re already completely bought into the Apple ecosystem…” yes, full agreement. The familiarity with the AVP home screen was more than just a neat way to spatialize your apps, it was really a sense of relief. I look back and there have been multiple sessions that I have had in the Meta Quest 2, for example, where I was in Horizon Worlds meeting with a friend, but I stopped short of sharing my desktop in order to present in VR.

And just this week, Ori Inbar, Founder of Augmented World Expo (AWE), posted on LinkedIn emphasizing the importance of VisionOS, and he’s not wrong, multitasking in AVP is a game changer, and cannot be compared to other experiences. [See: Apple Vision Pro, It’s the OS Stupid!].

Early Days, aka Last Month

Back in the States on February 5th, after I picked up the AVP in Berkeley, and through a confluence of timing issues, including the Apple Store being even more swamped than usual, I was not able to stay for the in-store demo. I had missed the demo slot so given that fact, I figured that the AVP set-up couldn’t be that hard, especially since I have owned so many other HMD’s and I have had so many decades of experiencing unboxing new Apple products. I figured I’d fire it up and adjust to a satisfactory level of “off we go” in no time.

But that evening when I got home and attempted to document the unboxing, set-up, and also to let my son try on the device, I was a bit surprised by a lengthier process than I was expecting. I had all of the familiarity of unboxing an Apple product, but I wasn’t able to just put it on my son without him having to do eye scans and to go through the whole process himself. I would learn later that I needed to enable some accessibility settings, something that I could have sorted-out had I made it on time to the demo slot.

Still, it was early days, so I had no idea that was going to happen and how to manage expectations, so I think my first impressions left me feeling like I just needed more time with it. Haters would already be complaining that this means it doesn’t “just work”, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s not exactly what’s going on.

What dawned on me was that the Apple Vision Pro is so much different than any other VR headset I had ever used. I guess I had the expectation going into it that it would be much like an iPhone, because I have now unboxed countless iPads and iPhones, and so it was actually a tiny bit of a reset for me to realize that the AVP is truly a first for Apple. Looking back, I think it was still the most like an iPhone, including needing to scan my face, and maybe I underestimated how impatient I would be to get it working at a level of ease.

While that evening’s experiment ended up with this now slightly unprepared first impressions video, in summary I had realized a few things right off the bat:

  • AVP requires time and lots of it for you to get acquainted with it;
  • The synchronization of eye and hand tracking is like learning a new language, in the video I half-jokingly call it “ASL”; not for American Sign Language, but for Apple Sign Language. More than once I wanted to have controllers and said that out loud;
  • Not everyone has been able to use eye-tracking, accessibility features are great, but not all-encompassing, for example I needed to switch to single eye tracking, some still struggle;
  • Switching between a guest and the main user is not like handing your phone over to someone to watch TikTok, it’s clear that this device has a primary user;
  • Seeing the Apple home screen overlaid on the real world feels like greeting an evolved version of an old friend (maybe what it’s like to meet someone in the afterworld?). It seriously had an otherworldly presence to it when I first saw the familiar app icons floating around my vision field – that was magical;
  • If you want to know where to “go” to watch all of the cool demo content, you might be disappointed to learn that without an AppleTV or Disney+ Subscription that you will have quite a limited amount of 3D content available for you and you’ll become quickly tempted by the Apple One Family Plan again, ecosystemCLVSaas!

This was admittedly a lot to take in on the first day, but what about the fit? Was this whole experience still feeling like Apple innovating on a pain point and effortlessly gliding me to a new computing nirvana? Well, mostly.

The next day I powered it up again and had the light seal that I had originally scanned myself for on the device – a 21W, the soft band, but I started to wonder if the AVP would be more comfortable with a different light shield. I would later learn I would actually need to wear a different band, as well as a different light shield to balance the weight distribution on my face. Given the questions, I booked a meeting to go into the Apple Store for a couple of reasons a) I still wanted the full demo and b) I wanted to see if I had actually scanned my head wrong in my haste during preorder.

At that appointment, they rescanned me, and fitted me to a new size, but they didn’t have that in stock. The folks at the genius bar were helpful, and they suggested that I try a 13W as an alternative. They also mentioned that the sizing codes have nothing to do with the sizes of the light shields that you think will fit [See Coffee ‘n’ Cards YouTube video for a good hypothesis]. Either way, the big mistake that day was not making sure that the light seal felt equally weighted around the face, which unfortunately led to my getting dark circles under my eyes after wearing the AVP with the wrong fit for an hour later on, something that my friends at the store quickly helped me remedy, but certainly left me concerned at the time.

So how has it been in these last few weeks? Well, an a-ha moment for me came when I was flying back from SXSW and used the AVP on the plane to use some of my time to dial-out reality and dial-in the mindfulness app. It felt like I had the world’s best entertainment system magically on a Southwest Airlines flight.

Mindfulness at 30,000 ft

But it brings me back to the ecosystem question, because this is still the piece I find to be the most interesting from a consumer behavior standpoint. If you are like me, then you have several hours a day you spend on your computer or near your computer or phone, and then the rest of the time you’re really busy with work, home, and family. It’s not like the Apple Watch which I wear all the time, or the iPhone which also is usually within arm’s reach, it’s taking up a different role in my world, still more like a gaming console than a core piece of equipment for ongoing tasks.

So this begs the question, if the AVP is going to take up an hour in my already busy schedule, which hour is that going to be? Is it the hour right before I go to bed, where I’m maybe watching a movie (that almost never happens, by the way), is it for playing with my kids, or is it going to be my actual work that ends up being the killer use-case? Or, will it be as I imagined it will be, moving into creating content that I can view or share on the device, which is currently the thing I feel the most compelled to do? And even then, is the business model really all about me purchasing spatial apps? I think it’s a little of all of it, but I think most of us recognize this is a warm-up for Act 2, and we are a ways away; remember “lifetime” is the second word in CLV.

Some thoughts in closing; when I said that February was early days, I should have said it was super early days. The amount of commentary, content, and sharing that has happened since early February has been astounding. As we look towards even the next few months, I am very optimistic that we will start to see an ever-increasing number of experiences that tie ecosystem pieces together. and hopefully will bring us many more inspiring and share-worthy experiences. I have to say that I am more impressed with the AVP than not, and I can see it for what it represents, the long arc of the customer lifetime value, and a huge leap towards that next spatial interface that I could use every day. And while we may not know all of what the future holds, I have a feeling that I will probably be upgrading my BEATS Flex to AirPods at sometime in the near future, because, you know…the ecosystem.

By Emily Olman Emily Olman has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Emily Olman is a Grit Daily Contributor, AR Insider's Editor at Large, and Host of the Spatial Intelligentsia Podcast. She's also Chief Media Officer at Hopscotch Interactive. Emily sits on the advisory council for Augmented World Expo, is an AUREA Award Ambassador, and an XR community builder.

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