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Key Takeaways:

  • Spatial computing has the potential to transform the way fashion professionals work by bringing digital assets into physical space – a much more likely unlock, with a much more straightforward and powerful ROI than immersive experiences and digital fashion.
  • Apple’s Vision Pro headset is a significant development in the spatial computing market, which has been stagnant since an initial period of hype and consolidation, making this the right time to start scaling digital product creation workflows in preparation.
  • The blended 2D and 3D workspaces of spatial computing can allow for improvements in productivity and creativity, as well as bringing fashion a step closer to realising the huge value potential of digital assets.

Whether you’re a fan of Apple or not, the introduction of a new device category from one of the world’s most valuable companies is a big deal – for both our personal and professional lives. The Mac may only be a drop in the world’s massive ocean of traditional personal computers, but the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch have all come to dominate consumer and professional categories – as well as the growing grey area in between.

Yes, there are other great smartphones. But the monolithic iPhone – as of last year – accounts for more than 50% of all smartphone sales in the USA, as well as close to 80% of all “premium” phone sales.

Ask yourself, too, how many tablets do you see out in the world that aren’t iPads? And in regular life – i.e. away from hiking groups and running clubs – how many smartwatches do you see that aren’t Apple Watches?

From a pure consumer electronics perspective, it matters what Apple does. Because Apple has a history of entering markets (often after the point that other companies and analysts have labelled them as stagnant) and simultaneously exploding and cornering them through a potent combination of lifestyle branding, out-spending, out-engineering, out-designing, and ecosystem-locking.

Apple Vision Pro, courtesy of Apple.

Which is why it matters – to us as consumers and as fashion professionals – that Apple introduced the Vision Pro, a self-contained, £3,500 headset, this Monday. The market for head-mounted displays (HMDs) fits Apple’s sweet spot exactly, being both fragmented and largely static after an initial period of hype and consolidation. And so far, the closest any companies have come to cornering that market has been Valve’s Index and Meta’s Quest 2.

Those two headsets represent two different extremes of the current continuum. One – the Index – is still arguably the high watermark for enthusiast capability and price at the cost of convenience, requiring users to mount cameras around the playspace and to tether the headset to a high-powered PC. The other – the Quest 2 – is standalone, affordable, low-powered, and has become synonymous with easy, accessible consumer-grade virtual reality.

There are plenty of headsets in between these two, which make up the point cloud that is the current market for consumer VR. It’s also important to point out that there is actually very little crossover between these pre-existing devices and Apple’s new Vision Pro. The current market is weighted towards gaming applications with augmented reality and pass-through (the use of externally-mounted cameras to give the user a view of the outside world) as secondary use cases.

And as big as the gaming industry as a whole is – see our extensive coverage of the powerful crossover opportunities fashion has with videogames – the existing VR industry is a comparatively small niche. The Quest 2, for example, is often billed as a breakout hit – and it did sell at least 15 million units in two years – but it’s important to keep that in the context of the broader consumer electronics market. Apple shipped more than 50 million iPhones in the first quarter of this year.

This is not an apples-to-apples comparison, obviously, but the point is: anyone who says headsets are already big business is taking a selective view rather than one that encompasses the wider market for consumer devices. And anyone who says that VR hasn’t stagnated might be conveniently ignoring Sony’s PSVR2 flopping from an already-reduced sales project of one million units to potentially less than half that number.

So is the consumer market for headsets ready for an Apple-style disruption? Absolutely.

Perhaps things look different for VR and AR headsets in professional applications? Not really. Take a walk through the graveyard of attempted enterprise VR and AR headsets: from the Quest Pro to the Leap to the Hololens. Stagnation seems to abound there, too.

So which of these segments is Apple trying to take over with its Vision Pro (which, to be clear, is a full standalone head-mounted computer, not just a display)? The answer is probably both.

We wrote last week about how the company has successfully blurred the distinction between consumer and professional users for a long time. And early impressions and demonstrations of the Vision Pro hardware fit that “prosumer” definition almost exactly. Peerless displays (referred to as the HMD industry’s “retina display moment”), ludicrous precision engineering and industrial design, incredible processing power – all deployed in service of… browsing the internet, opening iMessages, listening to music, watching Disney+, and a host of other very consumer-centric use cases.

But these consumer scenarios are likely to be just the thin end of the wedge. They’re the lifestyle marketing veneer that sits on top of something much more profound: the idea of spatial computing. (Not a new term, but one that we’re going to hear used an awful lot more in both professional and personal settings from now on.)

And as polarised as the reception to the announcement of the Vision Pro as a piece of hardware has been, that central idea of spatial computing is one that The Interline feels has some extremely compelling and also extremely simple implications for the future of work – and the future of work in fashion in particular.

As the name suggests, spatial computing is about bringing digital assets and experiences into the clearest possible representation of physical space. In a lot of the demonstrations we’ve seen to date, those digital assets are primarily spatial panes for existing flatscreen apps – virtual screens that can be anchored in the physical world, scaled to any size the user wants, and that represent the easiest analogue between spatial and traditional computing.

Apple Vision Pro, courtesy of Apple.

For a lot of industries that deal in services and data – i.e. those sectors that don’t have a physical output – these virtual displays will be the primary benefit of working in Apple’s vision for spatial computing. If you work in finance, for example, and spend your days immersed in tiled windows spread across an ultrawide monitor, you’re potentially going to get a productivity uplift by being able to anchor a wider array of virtual flat-plane windows anywhere you like in physical space, rather than being tethered to a desk.

The same principle applies in fashion, too, of course. There are a lot of fashion professionals whose primary day-to-day tasks live in spreadsheets, PLM platforms, ERP systems and so on. And if you work remotely – as everyone at The Interline does – then being able to arrange those systems around you, and having the sole fixed anchor in your workspace being a physical keyboard, then the same productivity benefits could be yours.

But VisionOS is about much more than flat-plane displays. Based on the developer literature and on hands-on impressions from tech writers, the platform appears to do those things incredibly well, but the real swerve is the ability to bring 3D elements into that same space – from Unity engine assets to USDZ scenes and objects.

For fashion workflows that rely on turning flat data into physical products, this is where the transformative potential of spatial computing lies. Because anyone who’s read The Interline’s DPC Report from late 2022 knows just how much of the average product’s lifecycle it spends as a 3D, digital representation of the final physical product. And throughout that long lifespan, the ability to see flat data alongside a 3D, real-scale digital twin could represent a step change in how we think about day-to-day creative and commercial computing.

Working in a Vision Pro, think about having your PLM platform and your 2D pattern on flat plan virtual screens off to the sides, and a real-time 3D simulation – at real scale – between them. Tweak the pattern and see the changes reflected in real-time in your room. Or pull in a past style from PLM by literally plucking it from your library and placing it in the studio. Or grab a fabric swatch and drape if over the edge of your desk (LIDAR should make this interaction at least theoretically possible). Push the new asset back into your enterprise systems for colleagues to review, or drop it into a collaborative moodboard for others to pull out during line review. Stage a retail display in blended reality while your assortment plan sits off to the side.

Apple Vision Pro, courtesy of Apple.

Those are just a few ideas. Some need more development time, new standards, and better integrations to be realised. Others should be feasible on day one. In all those cases – and many more – the simple unlock is the idea of blending 2D flat displays of existing apps and 3D scenes and objects into a single computing environment that’s anchored in reality.

Again, a lot of this has been technically feasible for a little while, but the likelihood is that Apple – being Apple – has solved the human interface design aspect of it all, making these workflows not just technically possible, but actually desirable, delightful, and approachable.

And really, that’s all fashion needs to be thinking about when it comes to Spatial Computing right now. A simple, powerful, possibility space that dovetails exactly with the industry’s current maturity stage in 3D and digital product creation.

In the initial flurry of commentary around the Vision Pro announcement, we saw a lot of desperation from people clinging on to the idea that Apple’s new “personas” for Facetime – made by holding up a Vision Pro and letting it scan your face – might eventually move towards full body capture, opening up the possibility of dressing them in digital fashion. That’s possible, but The Interline doesn’t believe it’s likely. It certainly hasn’t happened for Apple’s ecosystem-wide Memojis, which can only be dressed in a narrow wardrobe of Apple’s own basic styles, with no brand partnerships, no storefront, and certainly no NFTs.

But more importantly, tying Vision Pro into some nebulous idea of digital dressing for Facetime calls just isn’t necessary to understand why spatial computing should matter to fashion. Ours is an industry where digital assets are increasingly driving combined digital / physical workflows, so having a workspace where 2D and 3D can co-exist could be transformative in its own right. Especially when it’s being done by the company that has the best track record of human interface design and consumer / professional crossover.

The device itself is clearly not spatial computing’s final form. In fact it’s probably pretty far from it. The Vision Pro being released next year is, instead, the best anyone can do, right now, to provide the hardware foundation for those blended 2D / 3D workflows and experiences with minimal compromises.

The software, though? That looks much closer to being completely realised. And what that software does – bringing 2D and 3D workspaces together, anchored in physical space – should be all fashion needs today to sit up and pay attention to where the future is headed.

The best from The Interline:

This week we published a new and exclusive deep-dive on the state of technology incubators and accelerators – how they’ve come to define the digital transformation agenda, and whether the relationships they cultivate are benefitting both investors and startups.

We also added some new companies to our Tech Hub, making it an even more effective place to go and find your fashion technology fit – across categories like Supply Chain & Sustainability, DPC, Retail, AI, and more.