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The Vision Pro – 1st thoughts

Well it’s getting very real now…

Vision Pro first thoughts
image: Apple

The Vision Pro embargo lifted yesterday which meant that for the first time, Vision Pro has been seen outside of Apple’s controlled clutches.

Since it was unveiled at WWDC 7 months ago we’ve all been keen to find out more about it. Speculation has ramped up over the past few weeks as Apple broke cover announcing that it would be in stores earlier than we thought. When they promised early in 2024 – they weren’t lying, were they?

Since then Apple has posted their walkthrough video which was our first insight as to what to expect from a user point of view. Then yesterday the top-flight reviewers began to release their videos and gave us their first thoughts on it as the device embargo lifted at 2 pm GMT.

I know I’m taking a minor chance to write this story. Blogs like this can come back to bite you in the arse years down the line. What I mean by that is that it was very evident yesterday that the Vision Pro – the version we have now is very much the first generation of the end goal that Apple has in mind. So if this article seems dated in years to come…don’t come knocking on my door!

Ideally, Apple has always wanted the Vision Pro to be an optical AR device – where AR passes through a pair of lenses and augmented reality hits your eyes with layered information on top of it. But we know and Apple certainly knows we are years – possibly 5 or 10 years from that utopia.

So with the Vision Pro Apple has decided to make the very best product – the very best VR headset that can be made with the technology we have available now – and that, by all accounts they have achieved it.

So, I am going to throw my hat in the ring and commit to paper what I have managed to glean from watching the first videos of the Vision Pro away from the clutches of Apple.

image: Apple

Damn…that Vision Pro box is big!

I had a comment made earlier this week on a video I made about the Vision Pro saying that the leaked image of the box that was seen on Twitter last week was fake.

His theory was that it was that it was just too big and very un-Apple. Wind it on a few days and it turns out that leak was spot-on – although I still agree it goes against the grain for what Apple is trying to achieve with their environmental policies.

If you look at the boxes that your iPhone comes in these days it is vastly slimmed down on boxes from a few years ago. The main reason was that with slimmer boxes more phones could be packed per pallet and therefore more phones shipped per truck meaning a smaller carbon footprint.

But the box for the Vision Pro is chuffing enormous and from what I could tell from the videos I’ve watched – not entirely warranted.

In the box, you get the headset with a cover fitted over it and the solo band and light shield attached. There are two light shield cushions, a second dual-headband, a 3166 mAH battery pack, a 30-watt wall brick, a USB-C cable and that micro-fibre cloth I mentioned last week. But apart from paperwork that is it – so why the large box? Is it just for prestige – does the environment suddenly not matter?

One of the options is for the $200 travel case which looks to be beautifully engineered and although it sounds ridiculous, it’s almost worth the money. If I were going to take this headset out, at $3500 I’d want it protected – and this travel case does exactly that. If only the same thought had been given to the case for AirPods Max!

Going back to my thoughts that this is very much a gen one iteration the paperwork reminded me of the instructions we got with early iPhones – explaining how to set them up and use them – that is how raw this device is!

image: Apple

Gotta start somewhere

Of course, there are going to be haters – that was always going to be the case.

Folks were always going to find ways to ridicule the Vision Pro when it landed in the real world and from what I could see on Twitter yesterday, I wasn’t wrong!

Although I want to cut Apple some slack, there were a few things that did surprise me once we saw inside the box. The adjuster on the side of the solo band for example looked very rudimentary – certainly when you take into account the price and overall design aesthetic of this thing.

At least the solo band looked custom-designed and made purely with the headset in mind – but the same cannot be said of the dual-style headband that adjusts with velcro. That looked like such an afterthought. I guess that from the feedback they got from the groups they’ve invited to use it over the past few months was that this headset is heavy and the gorgeous solo band – lovely as it is just didn’t distribute the weight evenly.

The weight continues to be an issue – after any decent length of time wearing the Vision Pro, the weight starts to become an issue. Those light seal cushions I spoke about also seem to attract sweat and make-up – so how they will fare over time is anyone’s guess at this point.

The Vision Pro for all its futuristic status doesn’t look very cool – not many people that I have seen wearing it manage to style it out – and that dual headband only makes matters worse – more practical it may be – but it looks bloody awful.

The good points

Some of the best use cases for this headset would appear to be the more mundane.

It could quite possibly be the best TV that you could ever own – ok it would also be the most expensive TV you ever bought too – but a room-sized screen which is pixel-perfect sounds like an amazing home cinema to me.

The inbuilt speakers which are the pods just above your ears are great and deliver a solid Spatial Audio experience – although those around you will also be able to hear it – but of course not see it. The other and better alternative is to wear the latest generation of AirPod Pro.

image: Apple

The other win would appear to be using the Vision Pro as a monitor for your MacBook. So far everyone is saying this 2560×1440 mirrored display is brilliant – with the only drawback being you are limited to only one monitor – although you can have other native apps such as Mail and Music open on either side of it in your virtual space.

The view from within the Vision Pro is limited compared to other devices – it’s been compared to being similar to looking through a pair of binoculars as you have clumsy black borders and a field of view of only about 110 degrees.

The Sony mini OLED displays are every bit as good as we expected them to be and are reasonably colour-accurate although they only offer 49% of the colours that eyes are capable of viewing.

The eye tracking and hand gestures seem to be even better than expected – Apple has totally over-delivered on this front – the accuracy and speed are mind-blowingly good. The 12-millisecond latency they promised seems almost tame from all reports – the next frame of video is ready before your brain and eyes have computed it. This level of innovation is what Apple does best.

The battery

The only benefit of putting the battery at the back of the head would’ve been to help with balance – but overall it was the best decision to have it as a waist-mounted unit.

Vision Pro weighs in at over 600 grams and everyone is concerned about the weight already so adding the battery which is roughly as heavy as two iPhone 15 Pro Max to an already hefty device made little sense.

There is no hot-swap option for the battery, but it does have a USB-C port on it and as the headset is best suited to wearing around the home, you can plug it directly into the wall brick charger. The battery which is supposed to give you anywhere between 2.5 – 3 hours of life is fairly small compared to most phones – it’s only a 3166 mAh – why it’s that small as it is a stand-alone unit makes little sense.

image: Apple

VR motion sickness is still as real with the Vision Pro as it is with other VR headsets – so early on the advice is to break yourself in easily.

The elephant in the room

Personas! Yeah – that is the one feature that everyone is honing in on and making Apple and the Vision Pro the butt of ridicule.

Admittedly the images we’ve seen so far are a long way from what Apple spoke about at WWDC last year. Where we were promised lifelike avatars for FaceTime calls what we have ended up with are 1980s-type lo-fi cartoon characters – they look awful which I guess is why Apple didn’t enable this function at the last round of the hands-on experiences a few weeks ago.

They knew it was bad and I’m certain they also knew they’d be getting some incoming fire about it. It’s just such a shame it’s so bad as that is what’s making the headlines…not all the firsts they’ve managed to achieve.

They have been quick to point out that this is still in beta though. I suppose they would have been doomed either way – ship the headset without it and they would’ve been accused of selling short of their promises. As it is though it is laughably bad and they need to get on top of it as quickly as possible- like they need me to tell them that. Add to that list sorting out Eyesight too – what were shown and promised id very different to what we’ve ended up with.

Oh and one other point that came out overnight was that anyone can place their hand in front of the headset and it will respond to their gestures. How Apple didn’t think of that and engineer that problem out is beyond me.

Overall

The first reactions have been mixed and muted.

Apple never expected this to be a runaway success from day one – rather, it was a brave step into a new future. From a reviewer’s perspective, it’s crucial to report on what’s in the box and not what’s promised in the future – sometimes the future never comes.

And because the creators that I value have done just that and reported on what they have found the feedback has been short of the fanfare that Apple may have wished for.

But it’s done now – their baby is out in the wild and this Friday and over the weekend things will heat up even more as paying punters take delivery of their headsets.

Although the pure AR experience is currently thin on the ground – the keyboard seems to be about it for the time being, it will improve. The mini OLED displays are beautiful and are one of the main reasons for the cost of the Vision Pro – they should be applauded for the feat of engineering they are. The magnesium & carbon fibre design is head and tales above anything else on the market.

Apple was keen for this not to be called an AR headset and coined the phrase Spatial Computing – but in reality, it’s an AR headset – an exceptionally good AR headset with superb spatial and gesture tracking, but still an AR headset.

Somebody always has to be first for others to follow and for that, Apple should surely be applauded.

The big question is now whether we are ready to lead a lonely, hot existence by wearing a computer on our face. Are the days numbered for conventional computers or will the mouse, keyboard and monitor combo end up winning the day?

Time will tell.

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