Apple has some time to shore up its VR plans (though the clock is ticking)

Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey recently said in an interview with ShackNews that the Oculus Rift headset would support the Mac if “Apple ever releases a good computer.” He may have a point, but a new study shows that the Cupertino, California-based company has a little time before VR (virtual reality) devices hit critical mass.

“It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn’t prioritize high-end GPUs. You can buy a $6,000 Mac Pro with the top of the line AMD FirePro D700, and it still doesn’t match our recommended specs,” Luckey said, referring to a high-end Mac Pro’s graphics processing unit or GPU.

Oculus recommends an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD R9 290 GPU or equivalent. Apple’s pricier Mac Pro configuration comes with a Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs which, according to Oculus’ “recommended PC specification,” falls short of the “level of hardware to ensure good performance across the range of games and experiences.”

If Luckey’s statement is true, Apple apparently has some time to shore up any VR plans it has. Horizon Media says its most recent research on consumer interest in virtual reality devices shows that most Americans are unaware of virtual reality devices.

The research was fielded in Finger on the Pulse, the agency's proprietary online research community comprised of 3,000 people reflective of the U.S. population, and with the social media expertise of Horizon's Distillery social intelligence team. It shows that despite extensive media coverage of Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard and other virtual reality devices, fully two-thirds of consumers are unaware of the technology.

VR has been readily embraced by the mainstream media as the shiny, new, technological advancement. Marketers are also understandably excited about the possibilities unleashed by VR technology. But while there is interest among consumers, the Horizon Media survey findings suggest that companies should go slowly when incorporating virtual reality activations into marketing plans — at least until the technology reaches greater awareness and scale.

Consumers are open to a VR enhanced future, but believe it will take several more years to get there, according to Horizon Media. Unaided awareness of the major devices is fairly low at just 33%. However, more than a third (36%) of those surveyed say they’re interested in owning some sort of virtual reality device. In addition Horizon's Distillery social intelligence team found that 9% of online discussion around the topic is related to positive purchase interest.

In fact, compared to the Apple Watch before its release, VR got much more love from Finger on the Pulse panelists. Twice as many consumers consider VR "an exciting new innovation to own" (82% for VR vs. 44% for Apple Watch), and twice as many say "everyone is going to wish they owned one" (55% for VR vs. 24% for Apple Watch). A strong majority of consumers (81%) also believe that five years from now, anywhere from a quarter to half of the population will own a VR device.

When it comes to exactly what people want to use VR for, Finger on the Pulse survey respondents listed travel, viewing infrequent live events (like the Olympics and SXSW), seeing concerts, and playing sports as their top interests. Interestingly, gaming and viewing sporting events rank in the bottom two interests for the general population. However, online conversation tells a different story. In an analysis of VR related posts mentioning one of these same six use interest areas, gaming claimed a 93% share of the discussion, proving that gamers are by far the biggest drivers of online buzz.

Horizon's Distillery team found that 10% of negative conversation about virtual reality devices is connected to discussion about price, with many consumers saying the price of VR is prohibitive. The survey found that only one quarter (25%) of consumers are willing to spend more than $250 on a virtual reality device. Currently, Oculus Rift is priced at $599, while Samsung offers its Gear VR for $99 and Google Cardboard viewers are around $20.  

Still, Apple is almost certainly working on VR/AR (augmented reality) projects. In January the Financial Times reported that Apple has "assembled a large team of experts in virtual and augmented reality and built prototypes of headsets...". The article (behind a paywall) notes that the research team has "hundreds of staff" that have been assembled from acquisitions and poaching employees from companies in the space such as Microsoft and Lytro. 

One of the acquisitions is Flyby Media, a company that worked with Google on a 3D positioning technology. pparently the team has also been building VR/AR headset prototypes for several months.

The Financial Times says that for Apple, the "skills and technologies it has assembled in imaging and positioning might also be useful for its secret car project" although the VR/AR project is a separate unit. Apple had first looked at the virtual/augmented reality market in the mid-2000s, but abandoned the idea due to immature technology.