Virtual (and augmented) reality appear poised to take off after years of modest demand. The NPD Group reports unit sales for AR and VR hardware more than doubled in the US during the 2021 holiday season (between Thanksgiving week and Christmas), jumping 180 percent compared to 2020. The growth wasn't quite so brisk for the full year at 'just' 163 percent, but there was clearly a lot of demand for immersive worlds.
Raw revenue also climbed 153 percent during the holidays and 137 percent for the year. That suggests people were buying lower-cost or discounted AR and VR devices.
NPD executive director Ben Arnold was quick to caution that AR and VR "likely benefitted" from console shortages — if you couldn't gift a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, a Meta Quest 2 might have served as a stand-in. He noted that people were still looking for "unique" entertainment, however. We'd add that the lingering pandemic may have encouraged people to stay inside and try virtual experiences at a time when in-person equivalents like gyms and nightclubs might be seen as too risky.
This doesn't mean buyers are embracing the metaverse or similar high-minded concepts. It does hint at a brighter future for AR and VR, though. NPD already expects a 32 percent jump in revenue in the first half of 2022, and upcoming headsets like Meta's Project Cambria could further fuel demand. Don't be surprised if headsets are in vogue next holiday season.