June 5, 2023 will be the day Apple started something big. It’s different from what the world expected. It’s more expensive, it’s more ambitious and the track is much longer.
But while the Apple Vision Pro looks like a set of magical ski goggles, it’s actually a computing platform that could eventually support much of what we do on skis today. smartphones, tablets and computers. That’s because Apple has made augmented reality the core of the product, rather than virtual reality.
At WWDC 2023, when Tim Cook announced that the Vision Pro was an AR headset rather than the expected VR headset, the live audience of Apple Park developers and journalists fell into shocked silence – and with good reason.
Here are my first impressions on the field at the event.
AR is a much bigger deal than VR
Most of the expectations swirling around an Apple headset launch centered around the fact that it was a VR device with an augmented reality twist. The reality was the exact opposite: Vision Pro is an AR headset that includes VR-like capabilities.
VR is naturally constrained by the fact that you’re largely cut off from the world around you when you put on a VR headset. This creates immersive experiences that can transport you somewhere else, but it also limits the time most people will spend in a headset to 30 minutes or less per day.
On the other hand, AR glasses could shrink significantly over the next decade and become a digital display superimposed on the majority of your everyday experiences.
Tim Cook called it “the first Apple product you look at, and not on”.
It unites the digital world and the real world
Vision Pro is actually a mixed reality headset. It combines AR and VR. But since the world already barely understands AR and VR – even though we’ve been talking about them for over a decade – it helps that Apple hasn’t caused confusion by introducing a whole new term.
Instead, Apple talked about new ways Vision Pro can unite the online world, where so many of us now spend so much time, with our daily lives. Cook described it as “seamlessly blending the real world with the digital world”.
Again, because augmented reality superimposes digital information on top of the real world, it opens up whole categories of content and experiences where developers can draw on activities, professions, hobbies and existing passions rather than having to recreate them digitally in virtual reality.
“Vision Pro integrates digital content into the space around us,” Cook summarized.
It’s “a new kind of computer”
One of the biggest surprises for me was how Apple introduced different interfaces for Vision Pro that mimicked the iPad, Apple TV, and Mac. Honestly, the iPad and Apple TV interfaces didn’t surprise me, but the Mac did. Apple has shown users that they create the equivalent of giant multi-monitor Mac setups in Vision Pro.
Cook didn’t try to downplay it, even calling Vision Pro a “new kind of computer” and saying, “In the same way Mac introduced us to personal computing and the iPhone introduced mobile computing, Apple Vision Pro introduced us to spatial computing.”
He added: “With Vision Pro, you are no longer limited by a screen. Your environment becomes an infinite canvas.”
I have serious questions about how it will work (which I’ll get to in a moment), but the fact that Apple is even exploring the Vision Pro as a work and productivity tool has been the most unexpected surprise. and the most delicious of the event. . This gives the device a much wider set of possibilities than any AR or VR device we’ve seen so far – and will make it much more interesting for many more ZDNET readers.
Some big questions
Again, I have a lot of questions about how Apple Vision Pro will perform in the real world when it arrives next year for $3499. I’ll unpack more of these questions in the coming months as we learn more about the device and think about the possibilities.
For me, the most intense questions revolve around the concept of the Vision Pro as a virtual Mac desktop computer. I could run through a whole list of these questions, and eventually make my own article. But for now, I’ll focus on the most important: how will it be possible to use a virtual mouse and keyboard in this environment?
Ergonomics aside, moving your hands in the air to mimic mouse and keyboard movements might work for a few simple gestures like opening a website in Safari, but it probably won’t be very helpful for many extended or more complex tasks. Being able to pair a physical Magic Keyboard and a Magic Trackpad and use them in virtual space is a big plus. Using an iPhone or iPad as a keyboard can also be a useful option.
The other question that looms large in my brain is the extent to which the Vision Pro is meant to be a sedentary experience in your living room or den versus being able to move around with it in the real world. All of the WWDC demos seemed very sedentary and limited to indoor spaces.
One of the biggest long-term appeals of AR glasses is the ability to take them into the real world and overlay experiences like a hike to Half Dome in Yosemite Park. I feel like that kind of experience is still many years away, but I’d like to hear more about Apple’s vision for how this product will be the first step in the journey to that kind of experience .