It’s finally here. Apple has entered the chat.
The device we’ve been speculating about for years is real.
The Vision Pro gives XR fans a lot to be excited about – but it also embodies compromises that illustrate just how challenging this sector still is, even for a company with Apple’s virtually unlimited resources.
Apple’s decisions around these challenges have just set the terms of the market for the next few years of the XR world.
And having spent the better part of a decade developing for VR and AR, I’ve got some opinions about some of the more interesting choices.
Price and Positioning
$3,500 is … a lot of money.
It’s an enterprise price point, the very same price Microsoft chose for HoloLens 2, but nearly every use case in the presentation was targeted at consumers.
Why would Apple ship a consumer product at an enterprise price point?
Product marketing theory would argue that you develop a product to hit a price. It looks like Apple’s team instead came to the conclusion that they needed to deliver a minimum acceptable experience, whatever the price.
Design decisions like the front-facing “EyeSight” display and curved glass front certainly drove costs up significantly.
Apple’s product team must have concluded that these features were so essential to the experience that they justified placing the product out of reach for the vast majority of users.
Despite some brief nods to work use cases in the presentation, it seems Apple is not targeting enterprise at all, instead positioning this as a halo consumer product, while laying the groundwork for a future, more accessible version.
So who is the Vision Pro for? Rich people, apparently.
Those wealthy early adopters will certainly get a luxurious experience for their eyes: Apple didn’t skimp on the displays.
Our team is excited about the level of detail that the Vision Pro will provide.
VR display resolution is best measured using a metric known as pixels-per-degree or PPD, measuring the number of addressable pixels per degree of visual field.
Human visual acuity is generally reckoned to be about 60 PPD, while the current dominant consumer headset, the Quest 2, is about 19 PPD.
Based on the reported 11.5m pixels per eye, and a guess at the field of view, I’m estimating a PPD around 40 – much higher than current consumer headsets, comparable with the $1,990 Varjo Aero, but well short of the ultra-high definition center display on the $6,500 Varjo XR-3, which approaches 70 PPD.
Still, 40 PPD is a resolution that makes text eminently readable and will make movies look amazing.
Our group chat at Avatour was full of comments on the various user interface innovations shown in today’s presentation.
A few thoughts from the team:
- Our XR designer Aparna loves the “digital crown” — the dial atop the headset that allows you to decide how “immersed” to be, from AR to full VR. Great, great concept. And patented, so hard for others to copy directly.
- The team overall was sold on the set of features to ensure people can always be seen. This includes the outward-facing lenticular screen with its indications as to whether you’re seeing the outside world or not. Also the automatic segmentation of people in your space, so that nobody can sneak up on you. These features make great sense together, and we really hope they solve some of the big social problems with strapping a computer to your face!
- There was more skepticism about the input interface. It seems like “clicking” will be accomplished by touching your thumb and index finger together in view of the hand-tracking cameras on the bottom front of the headset. No buttons, no ring, no neuron sensor, just cameras. Will this really be accurate enough, even for media consumption? This former Apple developer suggests they’re using information from pupil dilation as well … maybe that solves the problem?
Applications and Functionality
We were disappointed to see the Vision Pro pitched mostly with existing 2D applications.
It seems that consumption of “flat” media, a la Bigscreen, is Apple’s best idea for how to use “spatial computing.”
We saw a brief glimpse of a 3D model, and a second or two of an immersive meditation app, but very little in the way of interaction with or knowledge of the environment. Basic AR applications like wayfinding were missing.
And the rumors about a radical new way to communicate turned out to be just … FaceTime tiles floating in space. The new 3D scanned avatar functionality seems creepy; I had been expecting a “memoji”-based animation which avoids the uncanny valley.
XR journalist SkarredGhost had a great summary of the applications shown during the presentation, which I modified a bit below:
- Screen substitution for watching movies, series, sports, or playing games on larger or multiple screens
- Productivity: have a call with your peers, examine 3D models together. Enlarge your Mac to have many multiple screens around you to use productivity apps like Word, Zoom. (At your desk, with a keyboard and mouse.)
- Wellbeing, especially relaxation
- 3D memories: record with your glasses some 3D memories of something that is happening around you, then play them back
Only the “3D memories” concept is relatively new, and most of the other items don’t really take much advantage of spatial capabilities at all.
Overall, while the hardware is impressive, the lack of truly “spatial” application concepts shows a real failure of either imagination or nerve.
Overall, the big surprise about the Vision Pro is that it’s unsurprising.
The product team applied Apple’s formidable design and manufacturing capabilities mostly to create something best-in-class rather than something truly new.
The two big departures from existing designs are the “EyeSight” forward-facing display (and accompanying person detection features) and the lack of controllers. Will these changes to the MR headset experience be enough to get (wealthy) consumers to strap a computer to their faces? We’ll find out next year.
But however the Vision Pro is received, it’s important to recognize that Apple doesn’t enter a new product category for the short term.
This is just V1, and they will iterate, at multiple price points over many years to come.
In parallel, the developer community will experiment wildly with software and applications, the successes among which Apple will then copy and turn into first-party apps. This is a well-worn playbook: the Apple Watch wasn’t originally positioned as a fitness accessory; now it apparently tells you what cycling “power zone” you’re in.
The Vision Pro certainly isn’t the headset to win over the masses – but there’s a good chance it’ll bring about the apps that will.