Tim Cook began his introduction of the Apple Vision Pro with the classic Steve Jobs “one more thing” line after having kept his audience in suspense for more than an hour of Mac, iPhone, and software updates. But the words he used to start talking about the device are indicative of where Apple is positioning Apple Vision Pro: augmented reality.
Not virtual reality.
In other words, Apple is intentionally welcoming reality into its headset in a way and to a level we haven’t seen before. One key feature of course is EyeSight, an OLED screen on the exterior of the device that allows family, friends and colleagues to see your face and eyes while you’re wearing the headset. The other key feature is the device’s staggering 12 cameras, five sensors, six microphones and its “more than 4K per eye” video resolution to enable users to seamlessly act in both digital and real worlds.
I was really prepared to hate the Apple Vision Pro.
I’ve bought most of the Oculus Quest (now Meta Quest) devices as Facebook has released them, and without fail they’ve all mostly gathered dust. Even worse was the $1,000 PlayStation VR, which was so complicated to set up I can probably count on one hand how many times it has actually been turned on.
But Apple has hit on all fronts with this device.
For entertainment, it’s a huge movie screen. For work, it seamlessly fits into your Apple devices and from the moment of birth has tens of thousands if not more applications, courtesy the Mac. (Including much of Microsoft Office.) For gaming, it has Apple Arcade out of the box and games made with Unity, the software that game developers use to make 70% of mobile games in the world, will automatically run. For communications, you have a lifelike avatar in Zoom and other video conference apps (I’m looking forward to trying out Vision Pro for video podcasting so my eyes always face the audience, even when I’m checking my notes or looking at my guest). For privacy, you’ve got built-in on-device intelligence that keeps your data yourself.
The benefit of Apple building this device, of course, is the insta-ecosystem that Cupertino brings to the table: software, apps, integrations, hardware, experiences, partnerships.
The device itself looks relatively sleek and light, based on a single pane of glass and a machined aluminum structural exoskeleton (aluminium as former Apple design guru Jony Ive would say). It appears relatively future-tech-release-proof, with over 4K resolution per eye and incredibly image density with 60 pixels in the space that the iPhone has one. Onboard LiDAR will ensure digital realities mix well with physical realities, and with two Apple Silicon chips—the powerful M2 and a new R1 real-time sensor data processing chip—Apple Vision Pro looks powerful even in its first iteration.
In a smart move reminiscent of Steve Jobs’ “ugh” moment when talking about styluses for smartphones, Apple will use only organic, built-in, natural devices for input and output for Vision Pro One: your fingers (gestures), your voice (commands and dictation) and your eyes (attention signaling to the device).
The one challenge, of course, is obvious.
The massive, huge, gargantuan price of $3,500.
That’s almost $5,000 in Canadian dollars in Vancouver where I live, and you can buy a small used car for that price, or a fairly decent e-bike, or pay three months of rent.
Apple built up well to the price in the Worldwide Developer Conference keynote announcing the Apple Vision One, saying the device replaces a home theater, a surround sound system, and maybe even a computer, but let’s be honest: few people will look at it that way.
(The ones that do might be those in studio apartments with no room for home theaters.)
It’s really expensive. More expensive than most Macs, and three times as much as many iPhones. That means it will be to some extent a niche product for some time, until costs come down in two to four years.
The (almost) unbearable lightness of being Apple, however, is that despite likely smallish sales numbers initially for this device, Apple’s ecosystem still offers a wealth of content and apps for the system, fueling its growth without immediate huge iPhone-like scale.
And, given that it’s called “Pro,” there’s likely going to be another device later at a more consumer-friendly prices. Or, more likely, this device becomes the consumer device in a few years at a lower price point, and an even more impressive monster replaces it.
There’s much more to be said, and about a thousand caveats: we need to touch, taste, feel, and experience Apple Vision One. But at first look, it’s impressive.
I don’t hate it. I actually kind of guiltily want one.
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