' HEAD TO HEAD ' THE  FIGHT to control the next big tech platform intensifies : The most eagerly awaited gadget of 2024 is Apple Vision Pro, a sleek headset that can transport users to the middle of '' Star Wars '' battlefield OR simply project the world's biggest Excel spreadsheet into their office.

The magic goggles combine virtual reality [VR] with '' mixed reality '', using front-mounted cameras to show the user a live-video-feed of the outside world, onto which computer graphics can be superimposed.

The device is controlled with eye movements and hand gestures. Apple calls it the most ambitious product it has ever made. At $3,499 its price is ambitious, too.

Apple will be jostling for consumers' attention with various rivals. Chief among them is Meta, formerly known as Facebook, which had a big hit with its Quest 2 headset during  Covid-19 lockdowns, when the metaverse was briefly more enjoyable than real life.

It launched an upgraded Quest 3 late in 2023, offering mixed reality. The Quest 3 is more basic than Apple's device, but at $499 will outsell it. Fancier models will follow.

Google may re-enter the headset race. A decade ago it launched camera-toting smart specs called Google Glass, which flopped. Plans for high-tech glasses called Iris seem to have gone the same way.

Its latest gambit is a partnership with Samsung, a South Korean giant, and Qualcomm, an American chipmaker. The three are working on a mixed-reality project which may produce a headset.

Smaller firms are creating their own niches. Valve, an American video-game company, makes VR headsets for gamers, as does Pico, a Chinese owned VR firm.

Pico's parent company, Bytedance, also owns TikTok, an app that has aroused suspicion in America - a situation that might make it hard to sell a device that tracks your eyeballs.

Don't expect any headset to take the world by storm just yet. Worldwide sales of video headgear will grow by a third in 2024 but will still total only 8 million units, forecasts Omdia, a market research company.

{ Smartphones sales will exceed 1 billion. }

Apple's Vision Pro, will probably sell fewer  200,000 units, because of supply constraints on components, as well as the price tag.

It will be a ''hit'' with developers in 2024 and then consumers in 2025'', predicts Dan Ives of Wedbush  Securities, an investment company.

The things to watch in 2024 is what those developers find to do with the device. Smartphones took off only after the launch of apps that turned internet-connected phones from novelties into vital everyday tools.

Headsets used mostly for gaming, still lack compelling use cases for most people. But as programmers plan to play around with the Vision Pro, that could change.

In the months ahead, tech watchers will have their eyes on Apple's new gadget - and it will have its four internal cameras looking right back at them.

The fight to control the next big tech platform intensifies.

The World Students Society thanks Tom Wainwright Technology and media editor, The Economist.


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