There was a momentous gathering at Apple Inc. last week, with the company’s 100 highest-ranking executives descending on the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California. The group, known as the Top 100, was there to see Apple’s most important new product in years: its mixed-reality headset.
The device was demonstrated for the group, marking a key milestone ahead of the headset’s public debut planned for June. It was an opportunity for the mixed-reality team to rally leaders around what could be the next major platform beyond the iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch.
The demonstrations were polished, glitzy and exciting, but many executives are clear-eyed about Apple’s challenges pushing into this new market.
Mixed reality — a category that melds augmented and virtual reality — is still a nascent area and far riskier than Apple’s earlier attempts to establish new beachheads. With the Mac, iPod, iPhone, Apple Watch and iPad, the company was essentially creating a better version of a product that people were familiar with. With the headset, Apple will have to explain to consumers why they’d want to own such a product at all.
With that in mind, executives are striking a realistic tone within the company. This isn’t going to be a hit product right out of the gate. But it could follow a similar trajectory as the Apple Watch.
That device started off fairly slowly, launching with mediocre apps, a jumbled interface, a sluggish processor and an undefined purpose. But over time, Apple improved the third-party app capabilities, simplified the operating system and added a faster processor. The product also found its role: It was a fitness tracker, health companion and an easy way to handle notifications. That clicked with consumers. In eight years, the Apple Watch went from a small portion of Apple’s business to a centerpiece of its strategy.