With its brand-new Vision Pro mixed reality headset, Apple most certainly has something up its sleeve. I just can’t quite put my finger on what it is, and I have my doubts that Apple can, either.
This was the most important thing I learned at Apple’s event on Monday and a hands-on demo with the company’s first major new product in nearly a decade. It is a pioneering excursion into the new world of spatial computing, which is where CEO Tim Cook is betting his legacy.
After playing with the device for approximately thirty minutes, I am able to state that this new Apple product has provided me with the most surprise and delight that I have experienced when playing with a new Apple product since the AirPods. The Vision Pro provides me with the unequivocally superior XR/VR/AR experience that I have ever had. Nothing else even comes close; everything that came before it feels like a procession of developer betas.
Although it is significantly more expensive than the Meta Quest and other similar pieces of technology, the experience that is provided by the Vision Pro completely eclipses those that are provided by the other products. At this point, the Meta Quest might as well be a toy that comes with a Happy Meal.
However, despite the fact that my time spent using the Vision Pro left me feeling really impressed, it is not entirely clear to me where this most recent Apple innovation and the “spatial computing” that it pioneers is leading us.
As someone who has written about Apple for many years and has been present for the majority of its major product launches, beginning with the iPod, the phrase “one more thing” has some significance for me. To put it another way, I have respect for Apple, both as a journalist and as a person. I have also witnessed it fall short, often in an embarrassing manner – remember the Maps debacle? Yep. Antenna gate? Yep. Therefore, I ought to believe that I am capable of evaluating Vision Pro.
On the other hand, as I walked out of the demonstration on Monday, I did not feel like that. I was completely taken aback, and the experience thrilled me. However, I did not really comprehend it. As I emerged from the enormous temporary white hall that Apple had constructed just for the purpose of showcasing the product to select customers in private, I felt both awestruck and bewildered.
The point is, all of the benefits that came from Apple’s earlier advancements were readily apparent to consumers. Before Apple put 1000 songs in my pocket, it was a pain to maintain my massive CD collection. Now, I can do it all from the palm of my hand. I enjoyed every stage of the process that transformed my cinderblock-like work laptop into a sleek piece of hardware that could fit into a Manila envelope. It was a journey that I will never forget. All of these things significantly improved the quality of my life as well as the lives of many other people.
They improved the quality of life for my children, despite the fact that they will never fully comprehend this improvement because they were born into a society in which many things “just work.” And just so there is no misunderstanding, things most certainly did not merely work for a very long period. Apple has come the furthest it has come thus far toward successfully implementing mixed reality with this device. The difference between this breakthrough and its previous ones, though, is that I am not sure why I require it to occur.
The hardware is… rather messed up. It is inconceivable to me that anything more than a couple of transistors in this device is not made from scratch specifically for it. Surprisingly little effort was required for set up. My presentation, which was meticulously planned out and included the assistance of a human guide, was set to go for 1 hour and 15 minutes. This was significantly longer than any Apple demo that I have ever seen.
That was definitely due to the fact that the setup would take at least half an hour. In total, it took less than five minutes. After completing two scans that were similar to Face ID and an activity that was similar to tracking my peripheral vision, the interface was effectively tethered to my eyes, and I was ready to go. (Since I wear contacts, I was exempt from the need for further calibration for my glasses.)
The user interface, especially the eye tracking, was, to put it bluntly, breathtaking. Launching an application is as simple as looking with your eyes at the app icon, pinching your fingers together while one hand is resting on the other person’s thigh, and tapping the icon. You have the ability to drag an application across your range of vision in a manner very similar to how Tom Cruise did it in the movie Minority Report.
There is a learning curve involved, but it’s not particularly steep. It is not difficult to be precise; yet, I anticipated some difficulty and frustration, but I did not experience any of those emotions. But I was also left wondering why I would want to do any of it with goggles strapped to my face when I can already accomplish all of these things on my iPhone and my Macbook. Is there a benefit to doing any of it with goggles?
Both the images themselves and the displays used to create them are breathtaking. Because Apple pays such obsessive attention to detail, everything (at least the stuff in the demo) is both aesthetically pleasing and, more importantly, intelligible. The text is not difficult to read. The images are stunning, with exquisite attention to detail. Both the images themselves and the displays used to create them are breathtaking.
Elegant are those with transparent window panes. The whole experience has a vibe that is simultaneously unearthly and incredibly real at the same time. There was a point in an immersive video sizzle reel where I found myself suddenly suspended over a crevasse with a woman approaching me over a tightrope and looking at me with an intensity that seemed to peer into my very being. It was so physically startling that I couldn’t help but scream out an obscenity in response to it. Complete and utter jubilation and amazement.
Another one involved a run-in with a dinosaur that, after making its initial appearance on a screen, proceeded to walk inside the demonstration area. I was instructed to approach it, so that’s exactly what I did. When I went to pet the dinosaur, it looked me straight in the eye and bit my fingers when I reached out to pet it. It did not have the appearance of a creature from a video game. It did not look like an image of a dinosaur. It appeared to be a real animal even when viewed head-on from a distance of only a few inches.
Apple has a valid point. Without actually wearing it, you won’t be able to fully appreciate the 3D photo and video possibilities of this contraption. I’m not even going to bother making an attempt to describe it other than to say that the first thing that came to my mind after reading through it was a wish that I had 3D movies like this of my kids when they were growing up.
I believe that the simplicity with which it is possible to merge real and virtual worlds, as well as the manner in which the gadget helps you feel linked to the actual world even when you are totally immersed in VR, is elegant, well-planned, and creative. Also, the ease with which it is possible to blend real and virtual worlds.
I am fairly certain that this is the reason why I did not have the generalized low-grade discomfort that I normally feel when I am in VR. My pre-hominid reptile brain doesn’t seem to enjoy being in tight, uncertain VR surroundings while its eyes are covered by a blacked-out diving mask if that gives you any indication. My impression is that it becomes increasingly tense. After using the gadget for half an hour, it seems as though Apple may have found a solution to this issue, at least for me.
The Vision Pro did not cause me to feel even the slightest bit queasy, which is something I have experienced with virtually every other virtual reality headset I have used. While I was using the Vision Pro, my face did not sweat or get that clammy appearance that sometimes occurs after using virtual reality (VR). Even though the trial only lasted for around thirty minutes, the gadget wasn’t even remotely warm when I placed it down at the end.
However, despite the undeniable amazing nature of this technology, Apple is currently confronting a number of formidable obstacles. To begin, the cost is quite high. This presents a completely natural barrier to adoption. But if you’re making jokes about the cost, you’re probably not in the target market at the moment. The original Macintosh computer was released in 1984, and it carried a price tag of $2495, in addition to introducing an altogether new method of computer use.
That is much over $7,000 when inflation is taken into account. Early adopters of Vision Pro are aware that the price of early adoption is $3500, and Apple customers are also familiar with this fact. (The name is completely lost on me as well.)
Yes, it does appear like an expensive pair of ski goggles. When it comes to packing enough camera, display, and onboard processing power into one device to create a realistic dinosaur that can live in your living room, there are only so many different form factors that can be used.
And there’s a very solid explanation for why you didn’t see Tim Cook wearing it on stage! Do you honestly believe that Apple Communications would put Cook in danger by letting him create a new tech CEO dystopia meme? I have no doubt that they were relieved to hand over that responsibility to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook.
However, the most important thing is that it is not clear what people would use it for on a regular basis. I can understand how something like this could be used as a tool for cooperation in the office given how straightforward, simple, and polished it is; yet, I’m not entirely sure why I would. There is a barrier to overcome, but it is not a technological one; rather, it is a societal one. Should we really dress like this when we go to work? Would we put it on when we were working from home? Should I actually put this thing on my face and make a spectacle of myself by being the first guy on the plane to do so?
To tell you the truth, I have no idea whatsoever.
A demonstration lasting only thirty minutes scarcely provides sufficient information to even begin thinking about the many questions like these that need to be answered. What difficulties does Vision Pro solve? I believe this to be the most important question at hand, and the one to which I have the greatest interest in hearing a solution. Which requirements does it meet?
Apple is adamant that it is a platform. I concur. But what kind of a platform is it? The most obvious use for this technology appears to be in video games, but the demo I tried didn’t include any of those (perhaps because it wasn’t ready). Employment opportunities? When I have my MacBook, I’m not sure why I would need to wear goggles. Movies? For the same amount of money, I could transform one of the rooms in my house into a personal theater.
The original Macintosh computer introduced computing into people’s homes and gave it a more personable feel. The original iPod enabled us to carry our whole CD collection around in our pockets. The iPhone enabled us to carry our personal computers around in our pockets and popularized the use of touch-based user interfaces.
The Vision Pro arrives with what appears to be a comparable paradigm for world-denting, but it is also accompanied by a significant social stigma that may be summarized as a GIANT THING ON FACE. The question is whether the need (or requirements) that it satisfies will be sufficient to overcome it. What kind of impression will all of this leave on my children, who have grown up with ever-improved computer desktops, really wireless music, and the ability to watch 4K movies on their smartphones? I have no idea.