Apple Vision Pro rentals take China by storm ahead of official release

Factoring in the deposit, you'd be better off running away with it

Apple is a big deal in China. Despite competition from four homegrown smartphone vendors, the iPhone comes top with a 17.3 percent market share, with Honor closely behind at 17.1 percent, according to IDC.

However, one Apple product not yet officially available in the Middle Kingdom is the Vision Pro mixed reality headset, which briefly had social media in a vice grip following its February launch in the US.

This led the gray market to offer Chinese consumers the luxury nerd goggles for twice the price paid by their American counterparts. Yet some models that made it Far East have found a different purpose in a region where local fanbois and gurls are desperate to play with the tech – rentals.

According to the South China Morning Post, adverts offering temporary encounters with the Vision Pro in "Beijing, Shanghai, Xian in central Shaanxi province and Nanjing in eastern Jiangsu province" have cropped up across the online flea markets Xianyu and Zhuan Zhuan.

One Beijing VR startup, Vision Space, has been letting customers have a go for ¥98 an hour ($13.60) at its bricks-and-mortar stores. Considering the eye-watering price of the Vision Pro, this feels like a reasonable fee. At this rate, you could swipe and poke at thin air for a whole 257 hours before hitting Apple's RRP.

Whether a privately owned Vision Pro would see more than 257 hours' use in its entire life given reports of US buyers returning the device complaining of headaches, eyestrain, and lack of actual use cases is another question altogether.

Vision Space chief exec Song Lei claimed that the company's biggest location in the Hopson One mall had drawn 10,000 customers to try the headset. "It's been super busy over the weekend as people line up to interact with the gadget," he said.

One punter who had a go at the store on Monday said that Vision Pro "excelled" the Quest 3 "in every sense" – but then again Meta's rival headset costs a fraction of the price, starting at $499.99, a point CEO Mark Zuckerberg was keen to press in his totally unbiased review of the Vision Pro.

Elsewhere, Chinese geeks were able to take the Vision Pro out with them for the day for ¥1,500 ($208), but required a deposit of ¥30,000 ($4,167).

Another Beijing lessor told SCMP that his Vision Pro was booked out until March 4 and he hoped to net ¥9,000 ($1,250) by the month's end. "I should recover the total cost in about three months," he said.

The fact that people are so eager to get face-on with the Vision Pro before it officially comes to China (Apple CEO Tim Cook says "soon") potentially highlights the shortcomings of VR/AR as a computing platform.

How many people do you know who actually own a headset like a Quest or PlayStation VR? How many of those use it every single day? How many of you have tried VR once, thought "that's kind of cool, I guess," then never bothered again?

We strongly suspect that the majority of these devices end up in a box in a darkened corner, tangled among various USB charging cables and games console controllers, only to be wheeled out very occasionally for the amusement of a guest.

Apple positions the Vision Pro as more than just an entertainment and gaming platform – something that can enhance productivity too. But who wants to work eight hours with 650 grams hanging off their head?

A renter in Shanghai reported that the gear was "ill-fitting for a typical Asian face" (low nose bridge) while Chinese tech review superstar He Shijie said on video site BiliBili that it wasn't "comfortable to use" and "I have to take a rest every 20 minutes."

Sales figures will tell whether those renters come back for the real deal, but it doesn't stop the Vision Pro being a Veblen good and a solution in search of a problem. ®

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