Apple Vision Pro: First Impressions

June 6, 2023

Avatour

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.

First Impressions from the CEO

Devon Copley

Co-Founder & CEO

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.

first impressions on Apple Vision Pro headset

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.

Apple Vision Pro - virtual desktop

Visual Quality

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.

Apple vision pro interface

User Interface

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:

Apple Vision Pro Headset

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:

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.

Summing Up

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.