Is there a future for Apple's new headset with Disney Parks?

June 5, 2023, 10:02 PM · Disney CEO Bob Iger joined today's big announcement from Apple of its new Apple Vision Pro virtual/augmented reality system. The $3,500 price for the headsets grabbed the initial headlines, but the suggestion that the system could feature content from Disney's theme parks merits some discussion from theme park fans.

Iger promised that an enhanced Disney+ app will be available on the Apple Vision Pro system when it launches, which is expected next year. A tease for Disney Parks content is included in the sizzle reel for Disney's content on Apple Vision Pro.

Granted, it's just an image of Disney World's castle and a few floats from the Main Street Electrical Parade. But the marriage of theme parks with VR/AR has been a recurring issue over the past decade or so, mostly leaving fans cold or frustrated by what they've seen in the parks.

To be clear, Disney is neither promising nor promoting any in-park use for the Apple Vision Pro system. And I cannot imagine anyone paying more than 3K for an Apple headset just to see park videos in VR at home. The first place I could envision Apple Vision Pro being used within the theme park industry would be as a new visualization tool for attraction and location designers, assuming that Apple can sign development agreements with software companies that develop popular architectural and media design and editing tools. With Meta and Microsoft also in the VR space, there will be an industry battle to see which company will become the standard for VR tools in various industries, including themed entertainment design.

For consumer use, I suspect that we're still a while away from someone releasing a product that offers the content that home viewers want at a price point they are willing to pay. Part of that will involve creative studios - such as Disney - developing content optimized for viewing on VR/AR headsets, rather than just repurposing 2D content within a 3D skin, as we saw in Disney's sizzle video today.

But for consumers visiting theme parks, I don't know how you feel (tell me in the comments), but I am done with VR in the parks. My experience on Hypersphere 360 last month ended any lingering curiosity I might have felt about the use of fully immersive media in a VR environment inside the parks. Give me a more social, communal environment for that type of presentation on something like the Hypersphere, or forget it.

Augmented reality still has potential within park attractions - I love what Universal did with Mario Kart, for example. But there's no way that Apple's system can scale to in-park implementation at its current price point. At best, parks and vendors might choose to develop their in-park AR systems using Apple's emerging Vision Pro development platform. As they do that, however, I hope that attraction designers never forget that theme park fans want to experience fantastic practical environments. Any AR media should enhance rather than distract from - and never replace - that tangible environment that only theme parks can provide.

Anyway, if anyone has any thoughts they would like to share about Apple Vision Pro and theme parks, let's hear them in the comments.

Update: Apple just bought the company that makes the Mario Kart headsets.

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Replies (14)

June 6, 2023 at 7:53 AM

This is a complete nothingburger. Companies already produce VR/AR headsets to help with previsualization, design, and construction, and Apple's entry to the fray is just another choice in a developing marketplace. Apple can certainly tout their ability to create a superior ecosystem for software and applications for the Vision Pro, but until they are able to more competitively price their product, it will remain niche, and is unlikely to have much of an impact on the marketplace.

FWIW, we have an Meta Quest headset, and it's a pretty neat piece of equipment. However, just as I told our son when he begged and pleaded for it as a gift, the value of the device would be determined by the software available. Indeed, there are a few decent applications for the system, but it's a very limited library with lots of games that are hit or miss in terms of quality. Maybe Apple entering the market can introduce better quality control and more robust development, but I think it's going to be another 3-5 years before the platform matures.

Considering the partnership between Disney and Apple, I wouldn't be surprise to see some development in the theme park world - perhaps a turbo-charges version of The Void, but it's almost certainly going to be an upcharge type attraction or small-capacity application.

June 6, 2023 at 9:50 AM

The cool factor of the Apple Vision Pro is off the hook, but the cost is pretty astronomical. Disney is in huge trouble in almost all areas. Park attendance, losing money hand over fist with Disney+, one movie after another that will not break even.

They need to concentrate on something other than a niche product that will be owned by a tiny fraction of the population. They are literally doing everything wrong right now.

June 6, 2023 at 10:46 AM

I agree with NB, Disney needs to get the quality of their content sorted out before focusing on a niche product like this (Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is the first and so far, only, Disney media to get generally unanimous praise this year). However, thinking in a vacuum, AR technology could be a cool way to add in an extra layer of immersion in the parks. Imagine walking through Batuu and seeing ships fly overhead, or being on Kilimanjaro Safaris, and having a little info card appear in your vision as you look at an animal. There's a lot of potential there, and if this tech ever reaches affordable levels/a less clunky head-piece, I think it could have a bright future in the world of themed entertainment.

June 6, 2023 at 11:18 AM

I have been a VR/AR skeptic for a very long time. I’ve said countless times “who wants to wear a stupid hat to play games?” And I considered the change from Air to VR Galactica at Alton Towers to be a crime against Roller coasters.

But I must admit I’m excited about the idea of Apple’s headset, if it can deliver what the Demo says it can (and as it’s AR/VR, we can never know until we wear it) then it’s the best possible chance for it to take off…. I’m shocked to say I want one.

But use in theme parks? I want to say I don’t see a place. Other than perhaps a select “experience what we’re building event”, or for imagineers back of house to do their design work, I don’t see a place for it in parks. VR/AR cannot make a bad ride good, they can however make a great ride terrible. It adds to dispatch time, costs, and can make guests more nauseous when it doesn’t sync right.

That said, Mario Kart is already doing this to some degree, so happy to accept I may be wrong.

June 6, 2023 at 12:27 PM

I've definitely been on the fence with VR/AR, but have been willing to give it a try here and there (and as I noted earlier, we have a Meta Quest). The technology has definitely improved from the early days when parks were throwing them haphazardly onto roller coasters and motion simulators, but it ultimately boils down to a massive lack of development for the platforms. Even in the gaming world, developers don't want to be bothered with programming for headsets, because they already have streamlined processes for the existing consoles. Sony tried to bridge the gap by creating easy porting to their proprietary Playstation VR that seamlessly integrated into the Playstation ecosystem (both PS4 and PS5). However, none of the developers, aside from Sony's internal teams, have bothered to create any content, and the original iteration flopped miserably, while the second iteration is struggling.

Meta has tried an "open source" approach, but it's very much a "junk in - junk out" result with a few developers carving themselves out a decent library of apps, but most of what's being offered is either mediocre or very expensive just to try. Until developers start focusing resources exclusively on the AR/VR market and/or dedicate portions of their existing development teams to the technology, it's going to be left in the hands of the hardware providers. However, if I had been a betting man, I would have put my money on Sony because of their extensive development resources and internal desire to make their VR platform succeed, but it just hasn't happened - surprisingly Meta is leading the market right now. If nothing else, Apple's announcement should light a fire under existing development teams to release more (and higher quality) content for the current generation of headsets to try to get ahead of the official street launch of Vision Pro.

June 6, 2023 at 1:23 PM

Jesus Christ, my life is spent trying to stay off screens and keep my kids from staring at screen. I know it's true for myself and for them: the more we look at screens, the more bummed/fussy/unhappy we are. We go to dinner and see an entire family, all of them lost in the phones, and it's just sad. Screens are bad for life, I know it to be true, and it's a constant struggle to keep from falling into one.

And so Apple is joining the other businesses who want me to strap a screen to my face?! These are the same people who screwed the country with Facebook and have caused teen girl depression rates to skyrocket with Instagram. They are not good people who have our personal best interests at heart. I KNOW that looking at screens is bad for me, but I'm supposed to believe these charlatans when they tell me, no, no, just strap it to your face, it's gonna be great?

Next they'll be inviting me to get in a pod filled with goo and insert a HDMI cable into the back of my neck. Hell to the NO, absolutely not, I don't give a damn what fancy crap you can see through this thing, it's not going on my face.

June 6, 2023 at 3:22 PM

"Next they'll be inviting me to get in a pod filled with goo and insert a HDMI cable into the back of my neck."

But then you'll know Kung Fu.

June 6, 2023 at 11:08 PM

Something you try and it might be fun a few times but then sits around unused and then becomes obsolete. Don’t see it working in any park environment - why bother going to a park for this one -off

June 7, 2023 at 9:52 AM

I concur with NB. And it's not just Disney. Comcast is in huge trouble in almost all areas. Park attendance, losing money hand over fist with Peacock. Losing 400,000 cable subscribers that cut the cord and won't come back. Coming in second behind Disney for worldwide box office gross receipts... again.

June 7, 2023 at 12:32 PM

Since you need to drag Comcast / Universal into this.

Universal is building new parks and Disney is down to $90 a share from a high of $200 in March 2021. Disney+ lost 4 million subscribers. Spin it any way you want, but they are going to be selling off companies left and right pretty soon. Lucas may get his company back cheap.

You know they have to write Comcast a huge check for Hulu in the near future, correct? Disney's overinflated self evaluation of the company will cost them dearly. They should have stuck with theme parks, where the real profit is, like $30 cupcakes.

They wanted to be the next Apple, except they don't have Tim Cook. They have Iger , Kathleen Kennedy and Bob Paycheck. All three took turns steering the ship into the iceberg.

June 7, 2023 at 4:31 PM

Leave it to NB to pick a thread fight with someone whose post begins with "I concur with NB".

Mind you I don't take shots at any Comcast projects. I simply point out like all media companies (Disney, Warner, et al) Comcast has sizable challenges -- parroting NB's term "huge trouble".

Note he doesn't directly refute what I post about Comcast -- choosing instead to wander off into an attack on Disney -- but, whatever. Also, for the record, I make no attacks on the management decisions or corporate leaders of Comcast.

And why would I?

I have had positive relationships with both Universal and Disney. My tenure in direct business relationships in the Central Florida themed entertainment industry extend back more than 40 years.

If NB were to run down a VERY RECENT TPI Discussion Forum thread he would've seen a response from me posted earlier today. TPI regular Rob P wrote "I hope that Disney succeeds because I want them to be there for generations to come", and I responded "I hope Disney succeeds too. Because if Disney succeeds, so will Universal, Sea World and so many other Central Florida attractions."

Related Note: Please reference my first post to today's TPI BlogFlume entry titled: "Happy birthday to Universal Studios Florida".

Ahh well. Perhaps there is too much personal, bad blood between NB and Ms. Kathleen Kennedy for him to ever offer optimism or best wishes to the Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney World or the cast members under its employ.

You know, back in the mid-1990s, Disney CEO Michael Eisner was interviewed by USA Today. And when the reporter appeared to be a starry-eyed Disney fan, it was Mr. Eisner who tempered that optimism. And although I can't find my cut-out copy of the article nor a link, I absolutely remember Mr. Eisner saying, "you know, Disney is not recession proof" -- specifically noting that Disney had no control over airline ticket prices or the cost of jet fuel.

I can assure you NB, Walt Disney World is not the only park getting anecdotal reports of waning attendance in June 2023. And I can also assure you that just because a park is new doesn't mean it is also immune from the economic realities of a recession, or interest rates, or the price of airline tickets, or the hassles of international travel, or pandemics, or labor costs, or temperamental new attractions.

I never criticized Comcast, NB. I simply said that it's a sizable company with sizable ("huge") problems. And I never criticized their executives.

But, then again, maybe your problem with Ms. Kennedy is of a personal nature.


June 7, 2023 at 7:20 PM

I respond - (shoulder shrug with a "meh")

June 7, 2023 at 7:27 PM

Forgot to mention... the Last three Star Wars movies are actually my favorites, followed by the prequels, then the original three. I just can't get anyone else on board with my opinion. I'm sure I will like Indy 5 as well. I have zero issues with Ms. Kennedy, but a lot of other people do, apparently. She's definitely doing something wrong with regard to placating the masses.

June 8, 2023 at 2:44 PM

Is this why they pulled out from developing for Meta?

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