A year ago, the tech industry was buzzing about the possibility ofits long-anticipated AR/VR headset, which would become its first .
working on as well. Apple is well known for ushering niche products into the mainstream, like the smartphone and tablet., many believed, would give us a . Apple has a history of setting industry trends, starting with ditching the floppy drive all the way to , which other phone makers are apparently
But Apple didn't show off a headset this year. It didn't even much mention the AR technology expected to power it that would overlay computer information on the real world.
Instead, competitors who tried to get out in front of it were met with mixed success. Meta co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the, a headset designed for office work that offers both AR and virtual reality, which envelops you in a computer-generated world.
Meta's headset received, with critics in particular complaining about the high price, the two-hour battery life and the lack of apps that actually take advantage of its newest features.
"Quest Pro feels like a half-step," CNET's Scott Stein wrote after trying the device, marking an inauspicious end to Facebook's first year under its new VR-inspired name, Meta.
The Apple headset's no-show, and the Meta Quest Pro's rocky launch, played into a messy year for the tech industry still hungry for the next big thing. For the past 12 months, tech companies have been beset by a seemingly endless barrage of challenges, from COVID-19 lockdowns that slowed manufacturing in China, to Russia's unprovoked war against Ukraine, which led to sky high energy prices, inflation and now concerns of a recession next year.
"There was a lot that the tech industry had to deal with that wasn't planned," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies. As a result, tech companies -- including Apple -- didn't deliver any surprises, so much as they focused on incrementally improving products.
Apple's biggest product changes this year focused on adding new features like crash detection capabilities for, a more and .
Other companies made similar, more realistic, strides. Google introduced its Pixel 7, a "" than last year's model, CNET's Lisa Eadicicco wrote in her review. Microsoft meanwhile polished its Windows 11 software to power a majority of the world's PCs, with better computer search as well as to Microsoft 365. And Amazon's ever-popular $50 stocking stuffer Echo Dot speaker , in addition to extending some Wi-Fi signals.
While many of these refinements were well received, industry watchers said they didn't move the needle much on larger futuristic trends.
"I'd almost call it a lost year in terms of progress," said Anshel Sag, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. Product delays will likely remain "a way of life," he said, "until things come back to normal. Whatever that is."
The lack of Apple's entry into mixed reality meant other new entries flailed with little buzz.
And that wasn't all. Zuckeberg's effort last year to $10 billion he's pumped into the project so far. Meta's stock has dropped nearly 70% this year., short for metaverse, fizzled. While Zuckerberg said he meant it as a sign of the company's commitment to future technology, investors have increasingly questioned the wisdom of the
Microsoft, meanwhile, lost its leader for its HoloLens headset team this summer amid misconduct claims. And Sony said its highly will cost $550 when it launches next year, at least $50 more .
It's probably no surprise then that half of teenagers responding to a survey from analyst firm Piper Sandler said they were unsure or had no intention of buying a headset. Only 9% were interested to the point of purchasing one.
Further economic instability predicted for 2023 may mean Apple and its competitors will likely delay planned new products even further, which analysts say is to be expected.
But the ripple effects will hit other companies too, including many of the startups David Barnard talks to as a developer advocate for payments company RevenueCat.
"Innovation tends to come from smaller companies," he said, noting that even Apple's well-regarded chip design team traces back to the startup P.A. Semi, which the iPhone maker bought in 2008 for a reported $278 million. "If Apple wasn't able to build their own custom chips, would they be able to create a headset now? Probably not."
As for 2023, he'll be watching to see where developers put their energy. After all, he noted, the thing that separates an iPad from tablets powered by Google's Android software is the apps. The same, he said, helps the Apple Watch stand out against its competitors.
"Don't discount the importance of developers," he said.