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Thriving rental market emerges for Apple’s Vision Pro headset as Chinese netizens eagerly await official launch date

In Business
February 26, 2024

With Apple’s Vision Pro mixed-reality headset still not officially available for sale in China, some domestic merchants have begun to lease the high-priced gadget to Chinese tech enthusiasts who are itching to try it out.

Although Facebook owner Meta Platforms and other companies have been making virtual-reality (VR) headsets for years, many industry analysts believe Apple’s Vision Pro has the potential to expand the technology’s audience beyond traditional video gamers.

Dozens of adverts for such rentals in Beijing, Shanghai, Xian in central Shaanxi province and Nanjing in eastern Jiangsu province, could be found on Monday, according to a search by the Post of online flea markets such as Alibaba Group Holding’s Xianyu and Zhuan Zhuan, which is affiliated with 58.com. Alibaba owns the Post.

Vision Space, a Beijing-based VR start-up, has several bricks-and-mortar stores that allow customers to try out the device for 98 yuan (US$13.60) an hour. The biggest one, in Hopson One mall in eastern Beijing, has received more than 10,000 customers since February 4, according to company founder and chief executive Song Lei.

“It’s been super busy over the weekend as people line up to interact with the gadget,” said Song.

A tech enthusiast surnamed Fu, who owns Meta Platform’s Quest 3 headset, tested the Apple gadget at the Vision Space store on Monday. He said that the Vision Pro “excelled” the Quest 3 “in every sense”.

Chinese tech enthusiasts try out Apple’s Vision Pro at the Vision Space store in Beijing on Feb 26, 2024. Photo: SCMP/ Coco Feng

In the adverts, rental prices varied from 98 yuan per hour to 1,500 yuan per day, with some merchants requiring a deposit of at least 30,000 yuan. Some adverts said the borrower would have the option of buying the device after use.

One lessor in Shanghai said the rental was “better than Apple Store’s 30-minute demo session” in terms of time flexibility, referring to the free trial of the Vision Pro currently only available in US stores.

Another lessor in Beijing said his gadget is fully booked up until March 4, and that he expects to earn about 9,000 yuan by the end of this month. “I should recover the total cost in about three months”, he added.

A third Shanghai-based renter said that most of her customers were satisfied and that more than half expressed a desire to buy the device, although one said it was “ill-fitting for a typical Asian face [with a low nose bridge]”.

As the hype builds, cheaper alternatives such as the Vision SE, made by local headset maker EmdoorVR, can be found in the southern tech hub of Shenzhen for less than 2,000 yuan.
The Vision Pro is Apple’s first major release since the Apple Watch nine years ago. Photo: AFP

However, those renting the Vision Pro may not have long to pull in customers as Apple CEO Tim Cook said earlier this month that the device would be on sale in China “soon”.

Chinese financial media outlet Wallstreetcn.com reported earlier this month that the Vision Pro’s China release would be no later than May, and that the registration process with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology was “nearing completion”.

Meanwhile, the buzz continues. On microblogging site Weibo, the topic #AppleVisionPro has attracted 60 million views, while #VisionPro had 12 million views as of Monday.

Popular tech reviewer He Shijie, who made headlines after interviewing Cook in 2021, published a Vision Pro review that has amassed more than 3.5 million views.

He praised the device for “providing disruptive sensory experiences and interactions”, including a high-resolution screen with low latency, but said “it’s not comfortable to use”.

“Most of the weight is on the face. I have to take a rest every 20 minutes,” he said in the review published on video site Bilibili.

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