Anyone still reading this blog (👋) knows Apple entered the AR/VR market with a very expensive headset called Apple Vision Pro. The don’t call it that nor “Mixed Reality”. They call it “Spatial Computing”, maybe it catches on.
Being the absolute sucker for gadgets that I am, and more specifically slick and shiny Apple gadgets, I drove yesterday to the Apple Store to sign up for a ~25 minute demo. Here’s my experience, I’m sure you’re dying to read about it.
So I went home, finished my coffee, got work done, had lunch with my kids at school, got more work done… and finally: demo time.
The fact that Apple will let you spend half an hour on a demo is notable. I don’t know how long this will be the case, but they put an enormous effort into this. Surely they know they’ll have people buying it on the spot because it’s so darn cool, but I suspect they are also banking on schmucks posting about it on Social Media (or a few old-timers writing a blog post… in 2024!). Good investment, I think.
Apple even had special couches made for the demos and little trays to bring out the headset. They have a machine to measure your prescription glasses (if applicable) so they can bring out the corresponding Zeiss lenses. Lots of work.
On to the device itself.
Apple Vision Pro is impressive hardware. It has all sorts of cameras and sensors facing out to the world around you, facing down to your mouth and hands, facing in to record your eyes. LIDAR, speakers, tons of processing, a 4K display for each eye… it’s crazy.
Once you put it on and tighten it, the device adjusts the screens to match the distance between your eyes. This is motorized and really surprised me! Then you see the world around you as if you were seeing it through glasses. But it’s actually the screens. I’ve tried several other AR and VR devices (1, 2, 3, 4) in the past and let me tell you – they are nice tries but do not compare.
This headset works just like you would imagine it. You can barely make out the pixels. The outside world looks convincingly real, as opposed as if it was coming through a screen door and everything is ever-so-slightly laggy, making you ever-so-slightly sick.
You start out by calibrating eye tracking. This is done by looking at dots presented around you and making a pinching motion with your index and thumb whenever you put your eyes on the dot. And this is how you use it for the most part: Look at something instead of “moving the mouse”. Move your fingers instead of “clicking”. It works.
Well, there’s a “digital crown” (like the Apple Watch) and you use this to bring up the Home screen with all the icons for the app. After that, it’s basically like using an iPad but you can have multiple windows for multiple apps and you can move them around. And wherever you place them, they stay there, solidly put even if you move around. Very well done.
Now some quick impressions:
- I could see a bit of the real world under the headset. In order to make that go away, I made it tighter which helped but didn’t cover it completely. Maybe I got the wrong light seal, maybe my nose is too big. Or both.
- It gets warm after a while.
- Audio quality of the built-in speakers is excellent. Things sound like they are where you see them.
- There is an outwards facing screen that doesn’t seem very useful and even feels a bit creepy. I don’t think it’s worth the cost and weight and will probably be gone in the next generation. But then again, Apple tends to double down on things for a while so who knows (Touch Bar?).
- The UI is easy to use. You look at something and you pinch. You can flick to scroll, you can move things around. I realized in the demo that I use peripheral vision on my Mac/iPad for a lot of things and that won’t work here.
- You can twist the digital crown to go in and out of “immersion mode” which replaces the real world you are in with a scene from a place you probably would rather be in. The visual quality is crazy and the immersion is 360 degrees. Wow.
- They keyboard is better than I expected, but I wouldn’t type much on it. Get a bluetooth keyboard for work or use dictation for longer things.
- 3D movies look really, really good. Better than a 3D TV (RIP) or in a movie theater. And you can make them to look as big as in a movie theater! They showed a clip from The Super Mario Bros. Movie which was a bit of a surprise. I would have expected something from Pixar!
- I was not allowed to watch the few spatial movies I’ve recorded with my iPhone. Bummer. But the ones they demoed look cool as heck.
- Panoramas look even better. The photo surrounds you completely. I have a lot of panoramas taken in stadiums that I’d love to see.
- They have something called Apple Immersive Video. It’s like a super-sharp 3D Omnimax. They showed 3 seconds of a soccer match and I laughed out loud it is so cool. Broadcasts like these would be a game changer.
- People complain about the field of vision. I didn’t even notice it nor think about it until after the demo, so there’s that.
- I went off-script and asked to try the famous Encounter Dinosaurs app which was present but not part of the demo. The 3D rendering is all live, the dinosaur follows your gaze and moves if you try to touch it, and it looks super realistic. I flinched like an idiot when it turned and almost hit me with its tail.
The Mac was not the first computer with a mouse and windows, but it was the first to get it right and now all computers work like the Mac. The iPhone was not the first phone with a touchscreen, but it was the first to get it right and now all phones work like the iPhone. The Apple Watch was not the first smart watch, but it is still the only good one? I think a similar thing may happen with the Apple Vison Pro. Companies have been trying to do consumer VR since the 90s and they’ve gotten close. But this really feels like they got it right.
At $3,500, it’s hard to think this will reach mass market. This is clearly a first generation product. Painfully, I am not going to be buying one for now. Remember, it’s $3500 but you have to factor in the price for the case, the extra memory capacity, Apple Care Plus, and the divorce. But as they refine it and bring down cost, weight, and size… it will be hard to resist.
Regardless of whether you think this is the future of computing or not, or the social implications of sticking a computer up your face… this thing is a super impressive technological achievement from just about every angle. And I hope it’s just the beginning since I’m a sucker of slick gadgets. If you can, go check it out.
I was not allowed to use FaceTime during the demo. You may wonder how you can FaceTime if you have a computer directly on your face rather than a camera looking at you.
Well, this thing has mutliple cameras looking at you. The way they made this work is by creating a 3D representation of yourself and using the cameras looking at your eyes, hands, and mouth to animate this 3D representation to match your movement. Reviewers are panning it so my expectations were low.
What do you know, one of my better looking friends got his Apple Vision Pro on day one and called me. While it looked obviously fake and well within the Uncanny Valley, I thought it was fairly acceptable. The motion well synchronized and the model is fairly expressive. You just get used to it. I can see this getting better with time and I am unsure (like with the whole device) if it will catch on. We shall see.