You have to take everything that you hear about microdisplays with a pinch of salt. They are never as good, as manufacturable, or as applicable as they claim to be. While there are consistent headlines about advances in microdisplay technologies, the news is often a self-serving justification of some start-ups process or investment. In other words, sometimes there is nothing there but the continuous development of technologies and displays that are not ready for mass market consumption.
So, what do we make of Sony’s announcement that is going to start selling its 4K 1.3 inch OLED microdisplays in Japan (the ECX344A)? We could start by saying, that looks a lot like the tech that was supposed to be in Apple’s Vision Pro. Or, we could talk about how the price of each display is listed as 150,000 yen or, $1,023. Let’s start there.
Is Sony selling a lower tech spec than what you might see in the final Vision Pro? Could be. Why Sony is choosing to put this PR out now? This from a company that is notoriously shy about sharing its technology and, even when it does, about hiding to who and why. So, we have something that is close enough to the Vision Pro microdisplays being sold on the open market. Something like that.
But, it comes at a price that is just a tad over $1,000 when, by all estimates, the price of the displays was calculated at $400-$500 in most Vision Pro bill of materials (BOM) analyses. Does Sony have no margin on the displays it is selling Apple? Has Sony tripled the price of the displays for everyone else? We also know that LG and Samsung have been rumored to be entering the supply chain for Apple’s Vision Pro with their own microdisplays so, while Sony has been consistently seen as the exclusive supplier, that may change or, maybe it already has changed.
Assuming that Apple is getting the best technology, at the best price, shouldn’t we start to assume that Apple is not being upfront about the true cost of the Vision Pro? There was already a great deal of concern about the $3,500 price point for the device, and the speculation was always that the BOM for the Vision Pro would top out at under $2,000, but not if you take Sony at its word for the pricing on the ECX344A. I mean, even with all the volume discounts in the world, the ECX344A pricing suggests that the price of the microdisplays in the Vision Pro are closer to $600-700 each. That would immediately push the retail price of the Vision Pro over $5,000. In fact, it would suggest a price that is closer to $6,000-$7,000.
It’s not that crazy. If you take the notion of spatial computing to heart, and assume that Apple is sincere in believing that the Vision Pro replaces multiple monitors then you factor in how much Apple charges for its displays and the Vision Pro becomes a bargain at these new higher prices. That’s only if you want to make the argument that there is a world in which headsets will replace multi-monitor setups and there isn’t. I can wait for as long as you need to prove me wrong. You won’t. Still, a Vision Pro could be sold as an Apple multi-monitor setup under the existing wacky marketing approach for the device, and we all know how expensive Apple’s displays can be.
At this rate, is the Vision Pro even going to make it to market in 2024? Not a lot makes sense about the Vision Pro and what Apple hopes to achieve. It is a mishmash of concepts and ideas and vision statements that don’t add up to a cohesive whole. Nothing makes sense about Sony’s press release about a microdisplay at that price, impressive specs or not, unless it is a very specific shot across the bow of Apple, a way for Sony to vent its frustrations with the company. These are not strategic product launches or ways to get a placeholder into the market. It is all so very strange.