Apple Vision Pro - a new push for XR?

4 minute read

So what do I think of the new VisionPro by Apple?

The name “Pro” suggests it’s a professional device, yet what we saw at June 5th seems targeted mainly at the wealthy consumer and the office worker in the creative space. Given the prosperity of the stereotypical Apple crowd, the eye watering starting price of $3499 (without taxes - probably just a little south of €4000 in Europe) might be a good marketing position. However, at that price point I don’t see it as a device for the masses. Yet. But this is Apple. They have deep pockets and are known for staying on course once they have chartered one.

It seems to be a very well considered device, and knowing Apple, its build quality will be very good. I really like the 3D movies’s thing, their take on FaceTime using a lifelike avatar, the “looking at your Mac and your screen appears on it”, as well it working without controllers. The best controllers are the ones that never run out of batteries and that you always have available: your hands. Projecting your eyes on the front ‘screen’ is a very clever thing so you remain present for people in the room with you - but arguably the only real new thing we have never seen before. Most is just (vastly) improvement over existing (competitive) hardware. And I hope that screen on the front is very sturdy, as inevitably the device will be bumped or dropped sometimes and unfortunately things tend to land of their heaviest part first.

What Apple mostly showed was movies and pictures, and 2D apps floating in space. I would expect them to boast more about spatial awareness capabilities and 3D content, but maybe that’s because the target user seems to mainly be the consumer, and not so much the professional spatial IT nerd or VR gamer. Supporting Unity is great, and makes me, as a developer, very happy as it means a lot of my existing code and assets can be ported and used. I would very much like to put the device to the test by porting my apps, but unfortunately I don’t live in the USA. Which also struck me as unusual. Apple announcement are usually of the “available next week, worldwide” kind and not “early next year, USA only”. Also, it was exclusively shown as being used indoors - I wonder how good its spatial tracking is outside of living rooms and offices; how it handles sunlight and quickly changing light conditions - all the things I know that can throw an inside-out tracking device off its rocker.

Allegedly building apps using Apple tools will be vastly simpler than using Unity, but with the drawback it will be Apple-only software. Unity, at least, makes it easy - or at least feasible - to make apps that run on mulitple platforms. Time will tell if this is good decision, but I can’t see gaming studios simply abandoing Unity if favor of a one platform tool. But then again, gaming does not seem to be the prime objective of this platform.

Let me make one thing clear, for the people who missed this: in essence, this a pass-through VR device. It’s in the same family as the Quest family and the Pico 4. They project reality as seen by cameras in the background on the screen inside your headset, so it looks like you are looking at reality. Basically the same thing your phone’s AR does. HoloLens and Magic Leap project their content on transparent screens, and reality comes ‘for free’ then. Both have their advantages and disadvantages - with pass-through you usually have a bigger FOV, you can do things like shadows, and virtual content can be completly opaque - whereas in HoloLens or ML they are always a bit translucent. The drawback of these are potential motion sickness issues and completely opaque holograms can block the view of real-world obstacles.

I really dislike you need insets when you are wearing glasses. This is the same thing I begruntle Magic Leap for. It basically makes every device a personal device, makes it hard so sell and demo to everyone who is not having 20/20 vision or wears contacts, or use it in training/industrial facilities where a large group of people use a limited set of devices. For this price point I would at least expect some diopter dials, to cover the most common prescriptions. I vividly remember trying a Magic Leap 1 - without my glasses, it was like looking at fog, and when I tried to wriggle my glasses under the visor it kind of worked, but I almost broke my glasses. Almost everyone over 40 has some kind of eye condition. The people having money are usually a bit older. So I think this needs to be addressed.

I was also a bit disappointed by the battery life, but I also realize this is only the first version. Knowing Apple, they will rev this thing every 1-2 years. Maybe this will push XR forward again. I mostly hope this will give a push to XR again. It looks like the battle for consumer hearts has begun, amongst the same lines we see now: Android (Quest) for the cheaper mass market, and Apple for the high end consumers.

Things need to pan out a bit more yet. Things I wonder:

  • How good does it remember spaces?
  • Can I track objects, QR codes, Vuforia markers?
  • Can I use the cameras to employ computer vision models?
  • How well does it perform in industrial settings?

I hope things will become clearer soon. I the mean time… “May you live in interesting times”