One week on and it’s time we look at the details of Apple’s vision of our AR future
Apple Vision Pro has only been with us for a week, but already it is starting to feel like a reality.
Understandably, it has captured imaginations and headlines alike. There has been much excitement and hyperbole, but what are the facts – what do we actually know about the $3500 Apple Vision Pro headset?
Are you excited or full of fear and trepidation for our digital AR/AI-enhanced future?
When I was live on YouTube last Monday watching the reveal, the appearance did surprise me. That very first glimpse did shock me as it was, well, uglier than I’d imagined and bulkier too, but as we shall learn, this is far from the fully finished version.
The headset comes in four pieces – there’s the front panel, the light shield or the softer part that goes up against the face, the headband band and the battery pack. During the fallout after the event, it also would seem as if there is a fifth part too, which is an optional top headband which helps balance Apple Vision Pro better.
The sustained comfort is still largely unknown as those present at Apple Park last week were only given a very controlled 30 minutes which can’t possibly tell the full story.
Joanna Stone of the Wall Street Journal, a very well-respected tech journalist posted pictures on YouTube of a red forehead and mentioned she suffered a feeling of slight nausea too. In defence though, I would say that these were very much only demo units. There is active cooling, but maybe that will be another area that is improved before the headset ships next year.
When you buy your pair of Apple Vision Pro, the fit of the light seal and lenses will be perfectly tailored and aligned to your face, head and eyes which should help with heat extraction and general wearability. But, still, the long-term comfort of this 3-pound device cannot be assessed until the headset is actually in the hands of real-life users.
As I mentioned, the sessions that Apple allowed for last week, as you’d imagine, were highly managed, in perfectly lit, air-conditioned studios, with plenty of space and only certain apps were available to use. They wanted to show off Apple Vision Pro at its best. How all this tech will function in the real world, in real lighting conditions etc we again will only know in the fullness of time.
One of the unique selling points of Apple Vision Pro is that pass-through lens. Although the version we saw last week is far from the final version (are you noticing a theme here yet?), it alone already helps to set it apart from the competition. The fact that it wasn’t quite as Apple wanted, I am sure is partly why we didn’t see any of the team or management wearing it. The risk of dodgy memes was too much of a risk to take.
But, like it or not, the pass-through feature is one of the most memorable features of how Apple Vision Pro will be judged. VR headsets are not judged in the same way – but now we’re getting a reprojection of the wearer’s eyes people are feeling freaked. Why though? Surely that is less awkward than looking at a blank piece of glass? The technology where photons are taken from the real world with the on-board cameras and then recreates them on the front-facing screens offers Apple far more expansion moving forwards.
Don’t forget – this is brand new to us and it’s only the first iteration. This tech is what will ultimately lend itself to the ultimate goal of AR glasses. This is just the start of a long journey.
Outside of the pass-through tech, without exception though, the latency, or lack of it, and eye recognition systems received universal praise as the best experience ever. Can you imagine the level of engineering or the portion of the reported $15 billion budget that Apple Vision Pro cost to develop went into delivering this premium experience?
Dialling it in
Whilst Apple Vision Pro itself is port-free, you do get a USB-C port on the battery pack. The battery itself will only offer two hours of play or use – and surprisingly there is no ability to hot-swap. So, for extended use being plugged in is the way forward.
Again, I think that gave us a clue as to how Apple envisage this device being used. It was never meant to be a mobile walk-around mobile kind of headset, but more an office or home-based type of device.
One ironic point that was not overlooked though was that the movie that Apple lined up on the demo units, Avatar: The Way of The Water is over three hours long, so you’d not be able to watch it on a single battery charge. As everything about last week was so scripted and on-point, odd that they chose that movie don’t you think?
But what we were given last week very much attests to the longer-term goals of Apple, AR and the ultimate goal of AR glasses. They have chosen to focus on apps and user scenarios that are more mass-market than unique options. Bringing media consumption to the forefront was a clever move as that will help sell the idea to more people as it’s more relatable.
It was important to get Apple Vision Pro released though – not only for the here and now but for the future development of the platform. An ecosystem needs to be built and now developers can get to work on that goal. That decision is most un-Apple’like but that sums up perfectly the enormity of what we are witnessing. Out of the gate, this could never be perfect.
Remember, what we are seeing now is as bad as it will ever be – the minimum experience. From this point, the ergonomics, design and functionality will exponentially improve. But now, the future can start to be built in earnest. The gauntlet has been thrown down.
Sadly if you wear glasses then it is going to cost you – there is no way of dressing that up. Having a perfect visual setup is central to the whole experience. Apple has partnered with Zeiss to supply prescription lenses – but they are expected to cost around $500 a pair. I cannot for a moment see Apple subsidising the cost, so on the face of it, if you wear prescription glasses you are being penalised!
Who knows though, eventually Apple Vision Pro may even replace your glasses anyway…
The audio setup was a little bit of a surprise to me. I’d kind of always assumed that Apple would lean heavily into their AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, but instead, they seem to have chosen to go the route of making Apple Vision Pro a complete stand-alone unit which is probably a smart move.
Apart from a new product, and platform a new phrase was also born last week – spatial computing. It’s a phrase that the masses will very quickly have to get used to.
The level of realism that this device offers is unsurpassed. It’s almost as if you can feel the air, breathe, and the ground under your feet – the experience is that real. Because it’s all so new, our brains are still catching up – we are not yet hard-wired to take on what the device is giving our sensory perceptions.
The reason the experience is so realistic is because of the sheer array of hardware packed in. There are 12 cameras, infrared cameras and LiDAR scanners tracking just about every reaction or movement you make.
With the iPhone, Apple redefined mobile photography. Apple Vision Pro will take that to another level. And this time, it will not only be the quality of the images but more importantly how we can relive them.
Looking back at images or videos through this device will be so life-like. What I’d give to have captured my mum and dad with a device like this. In a sense, they’d be forever with me. Being that person wearing the headset at a family party or barbecue initially will look odd, but by the time that distils down to glasses…just imagine, life while not having become immortal, lifelike memories will have taken a massive & meaningful step forward.
Again bear in mind, the constant here – as of now this is the diamond in the rough – it will get better.
The long player
For the longest time, looking on, I have had the opinion that Apple plan everything meticulously. Nothing happens by chance and that is so true when looking at what has just gone on.
We know this platform has been in development for nearly a decade. Apple TV+ was launched in 2018 – and that is no coincidence. By getting its streaming platform out that long ago it has given it time to develop and bed in.
Apple meanwhile has been busy buying live sports rights – and now we know why. As I mentioned earlier media consumption is a mass market Apple has had their eye on, and live sports leans in perfectly to this brand of augmented reality.
The hardware to stream sports in AR is already in place at many of the world’s sporting arenas and now they can sense that there will soon be an audience to cater to because of Apple Reality Pro, I’d say we’ll see more and more stadiums and arenas investing heavily in the infrastructure for fear of being left behind.
But live sports are only the tip of this AR iceberg. It’s easy to see how Apple Music can evolve and make use of AR. Stepping into movies will become a reality and even experiencing workouts, destinations and theme parks all got a step closer last week.
Booking a holiday? Then why not get a feel for some of the views and locations or even your hotel room before booking – last week everything changed.
This device, what we saw last week is not the finished article and is not for the masses.
This will be for developers and the AR die-hards, but by finally getting this out into the wild it means development of the SE or more affordable version can now start in earnest.
Apple is looking to get a more affordable version of this out by as early as late 2025. And to make it less expensive, there are plenty of areas they can focus on. Those gorgeous 4K microLED virtual reality displays don’t come cheap, so the SE version could easily downgrade those without losing too much of the experience. The headbands could also be simplified and lose the spatial audio setup – instead, you could use AirPods.
A full release in March 2024 seems pretty realistic and that doesn’t leave them a lot of time.
Again making sure that these headsets don’t fall foul of any unwanted attention or leaks, rather than sending developer units out, it would seem Apple may take the route of having developer centres located around the world that developers will travel to and be able to work on their apps there in a controlled environment.
Possibly at the very end of the journey units will be sent out ahead of release but only weeks beforehand. Apple will not lose control of this journey – be sure of that.
Early on we’ll notice a move from the normal software that we’ve become accustomed to into 2.5D or a semi-spatial world again with the long-term goal being for a full 3D experience.
The ultimate goal is for glasses but that is still years away from becoming a reality. But importantly we are now on the way – last week we took a meaningful step forwards.
The devices will become smaller the FOV improved and the resolution even better with an all-day experience then being a real possibility. When the SE model variation comes to market that will bring with it economies of scale which will bring the headset to more households and make it more accessible.
Is Apple Reality Pro the end of the iPhone or Mac? No, not just yet, but I can sense that it will be in the not-so-distant future.
The prospect of spatial computing genuinely excites me. The freedom it can bring and the improvements to the quality of your working day seem endless. I know eyebrows were raised about the cost, but when you just think how much development has gone into these and the hardware you are buying, is it so unreasonable? After all, a 72-inch OLED TV panel with no cameras and no speakers can easily cost £3000 which surely throws some perspective on the cost.
If the future is to be us all sitting down as a family to watch a movie together, the cost will need to come down dramatically – and it will. For now Reality Vision Pro will be the provenance of the select few, but the mass market is not that far away.
Time Cook said this will be the first Apple device you’ve looked through and not at. Although a well-rehearsed marketing line, just take the reality of that on board for a moment. Last week was a seismic moment in our history.
Spatial computing is only at the start of its journey; we should feel privileged to be part of it. To some degree, Apple was always going to be on a hiding to nothing last week – no way could they look to please everyone but what they did successfully do was raise the appetite, possibilities and profile of the AR platform.
History should never stand still and last week Apple Vision Pro reiterated that point.
The future is happening now thanks to Apple Vision Pro.
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