I'm doing something a bit different and writing my thoughts on Apple's headset both before and after their WWDC conference, which took place yesterday. I'm no prognosticator but I have a lot of questions. Let's dive in.
It's Friday, June 2 and I am completely intrigued by all this "Apple VR / AR / headset" news. Is it bunk? Maybe. But there are a few things going on leading me to believe, now more than ever, that Apple is announcing its next hardware platform on Monday.
It comes down to a simple observation: Where there's Apple smoke, there's Apple fire.
Apple is no stranger to rumors and some sort of augmented reality (AR) device has been bubbling around for years. Previously Apple has demoed ways to use the iPhone's camera to mix the virtual and the real worlds together. Pokemon Go is the best example of AR. Another is the Measure app that comes on every iPhone. Ikea lets you try furniture in your home virtually and I actually used a similar feature from Dell to see what size monitor would fit best on my desk. These are great tricks, but as of right now, there are limited use cases for this stuff. Enough for something to strap to your face? No.
So what's going on to change my mind? Legendary reporter Mark Gurman's reporting on this has come at a steady pace. Gurman has fantastic sourcing, but he has been adamant that Apple's new device IS coming this year. Then developer Steve Troughton-Smith found multiple references to "xrOS" in Apple's code. Again, this is big because Apple is letting code out into the wild that references technology that does not exist as of today.
The real tipping point, funny enough, comes from Apple itself. On May 30th they posted this tweet: "A new era begins. Join us for #WWDC23 on June 5 at 10 a.m. PT. Tap the and we’ll send you a reminder on event day."
What era could that be? Not the Apple Silicon transition. Excluding the late Mac Pro the move to Apple's in-house chips is done. It can't be iOS 17 because we get that every year. A "new era"? iOS hasn't been that big of an update since the single-digit-version years.
Past all the guessing on IF this device will be announced, I am much more concerned about the WHY. What is the use case? To be more specific: WHY will someone want to wear something on their face for an extended amount of time? It's not VR or "the metaverse" nonsense.
I bought a PS4 and PSVR when Sony's VR system came out. I loved it and thought it was a lot of fun. So I have some experience in this realm. Two things stuck out for me when I was "inside" playing a game.
- If you get motion sick, you have to be choosy about the games you play.
- Many headsets do not compensate for people who wear glasses.
My most-played games were all ones where I was sitting down (Star Trek: Bridge Crew) or not moving a lot in-game (Beat Saber). Playing VR gets tiring between the eye strain and the weight of something strapped to your head. Even when having a lot of fun, I generally couldn't play for more than an hour or so before needing a break. Often I would be done for the day. VR is not for "normals". The last time I checked, Apple doesn't sell products that aren't for the mass market.
As much shit as I give Meta on their failures to make their Quest VR hardware sell well, I do think they've poured millions of dollars into finding the "why". Of course, they haven't solved it. With dedicated effort and teams, and boatloads of cash, the Quest is still a niche toy that people are not going to use in any widespread way. How will Apple solve this? What is the use case that gets your uncle or kids or people who have no interest in technology to buy this thing and use it? Today, I personally can't see it. I'm sure it's obvious once Apple tells its story.
It took the iPhone four generations to become a massive seller. It took the Apple Watch three to five generations before it was everywhere. The same for the iPod, MacBook Air, AirPods, etc, etc. The "why" could be a bit vague and slightly unfocused with Version 1. That's okay. But rarely in Apple's history have they iterated to Version 2 while abandoning every "why" from V1. The only example that comes to mind is Apple Watch focusing more on health & fitness and less on a communication device (as originally stressed in its debut).
Tuesday will surely be interesting. Will it be expensive? Probably, with rumors pegging it at $3k. Will it lack a boatload of features? Yup. Copy and paste didn't come to iPhone OS until version 3 I believe. But will it be an eventual success? If Apple tells the story in the right way, you bet.
Tim Cook's WWDC keynote has finished and we now have our answer:
Apple Vision Pro is Apple's new device which doesn't ship until April of next year and will set you back $3499. Most important is the "why" that I stressed above. Personally, I think that question has not been answered.
Apple is positioning this as a work-focused device. They showed workplace applications first in all examples and led with that theme. Only after those use cases did they show how it could be an "entertainment device" too.
Like McKayla Marone, I'm not impressed. My thoughts will start with the negative first, followed by what I do like.
Vision Pro is a very obvious V1 project. Apple has to start somewhere, but there are things that show compromise; mainly the external battery that's tethered to the device. I understand batteries are heavy and you have to put that weight somewhere. But having a tether to your pocket is a V1 inelegant solution. I guess the advantage is Reality Pro ships with 2 batteries so you can charge one and connect a charged one so you're uninterrupted. Even still, that battery gives 2 hours of use. That's immensely small. I did chuckle when they said, "All day use when plugged in." Last time I checked, any device will last all day when connected to power.
I'm glad glasses-wearers like myself were mentioned but we spectacle-wearing folk will need to spring for prescription Zeiss inserts. You know those aren't going to be cheap and, even worse, will need somewhat-annual replacements due to changing prescriptions.
The device projects your eyes through it so people can "see" you. Sounds cool on paper but could be creepy in real life. Same goes for the "Persona" digital avatar thing they're doing for FaceTime. Could be fine, but I simply don't know.
What I noticed the most though was in nearly every application, Apple showed someone who was alone. Aside from a few situations to demonstrate an interruption or presence around others, Vision Pro is a solitary experience. For single people and when working at a desk, that is fine. But when I want to watch TV or play a game with others, that's a deal-breaker for this thing. And it's not like me and my partner will each strap a Vision Pro on to simply watch TV together when I have, you know, a TV that does that already.
On the positive side, Apple has completely solved the peripherals issue when it comes to this stuff. VR systems are fun but require complicated controllers to do anything. If the "air gesture" as I'm calling it Interface works as advertised, that could be super slick. A subtle gesture to get your stuff done. I like that.
You know what's also good: using it on an airplane! This is absolutely a great scenario for people to tune out the entire experience and essentially be transported (no pun intended) while flying somewhere. While people don't fly too often, I could see Vision Pro becoming THE must-have travel item for frequent flyers.
Working remotely in a place that isn't home base is another good scenario they demoed. I don't know how many people would work from a hotel room, but working with this in a coffee shop or somewhere else would be nice.
Finally, this is only the start. V2, V3, and V4 will be where the real action is with Vision Pro. Again, Apple had to start somewhere. Apple will do what it always does: take tons of real customer-use information and iterate like crazy. It's why the iPhone 3G, 3G S, and iPhone 4 were insane leaps over the original iPhone. That 2007 V1 was about getting it out the door. By version 4, it was THE must-have device.
The price will go down (I'm convinced the super-high price is intentional to stifle adoption to only people with tons of disposable income or to quietly focus on the business market), the hardware will get smaller and more powerful and eventually have a batter built in. And by V4 in 2028 (assuming a yearly update like all Apple hardware), we'll see it out in the wild while wearing our own.
PS: This presentation and specifically applied approach puts everything Meta has done with the Meta Quest to shame. Nobody wants to hang out in a virtual world with crappy graphics.
PPS: I await the day I can wear one while yelling at the ceiling for some fruit.
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