I just watched the full keynote of Apple at WWDC, where the company in Cupertino announced the Apple VisionPro headset. I’m sure you all already know what has been announced there, so instead of telling you what you already know, I want to tell you my instinctive reactions just after the announcement.
What I was looking for
If you are a reader of my weekly newsletter, you know what I was looking for in this announcement. More than the specifications of the device, which more or less we already knew (and that were confirmed, with some slight difference), I was interested in listening to the announcements in these areas:
- Design: Can Apple make XR appear cool?
- UX: Can Apple make XR usable?
- Use cases: Can Apple make XR useful?
- Partnership: Who’s onboard with Apple in this journey?
- Dev opportunities: Can Apple give us XR developers a chance to succeed?
- Terms: Will Apple invent new words to define XR?
And well… if I look at these points, I can’t say I was entirely satisfied with what I’ve heard today.
On the front side, the headset looks pretty cool, like a pair of elegant ski goggles. I totally love how they implemented what we tech guys called “reverse passthrough” but they renamed it as the fancier EyeSight. This makes VR more human and less isolating for the people that are with us: if someone is around you, the headset displays your eyes in an optical-correct way, so these people can have a more human relationship with you. This is great.
The problem is that… honestly speaking, all the other things about this device do not look pretty to me. The rear part is pretty big and bulky, and looking laterally at it, the headset seems made of three parts with three different colors. It’s not the Apple-pretty I was expecting.
I was discussing yesterday with Tom Emrich also about what personal customizations there could be for the headset, and in what colors it could be available. But I heard nothing in this sense, which is weird: a personal object I put on my face, made by Apple, without customization options? I hope they are going to come later…
And then of course there is the last horrible thing which is the cable that connects the headset to the external battery. The cable is bad to be seen, and it is going to be a nuisance during usage. All of this to have a battery that lasts just 2 hours. This is not much Apple.
For me, the front of the headset is super-approved, the rest is to be revised.
The interesting thing is that the images of people wearing the Apple Vision Pro in the trailers were incredibly polished. They made the headset look cool, and especially they made the people wearing it look cool. Interactions, as we will see, are made with micro-gestures, so we had no person making big movements in the air like on Quest trailers so that the actors looked classy.
The horrible-looking Quest 3 looks like a toy in comparison. This is going to be very important for people that want to buy it: those who buy an Apple product want to appear cool, and this will still happen with the Vision Pro.
UX is probably the sector in which Apple got my total approval during this launch. We have not seen much about this headset, but the basic interactions seem made the right way. The use of eye, hand, and voice interactions make the interface with the headset natural and easy to be learned. The genius part has been mixing eye tracking with hand micro-gestures.
As much as I love hand interactions, it is bad that you have to keep your arms raised to perform the actions: it is very tiresome in the long run. With Apple, you instead keep the hands low at rest and then do micro-gestures to perform the actions on the object that you are looking at. Eyes are used to give context, to tell what element is the interaction target, and then micro-gestures with the arm at rest are used to perform the most used actions like moving a window, zooming something, etc… This is natural and comfortable.
There are also other things that pose well for the UX of the users. For instance, identification via iris scanning makes sure you don’t have to type a password every time you put the headset on, and can also be used for payments. Voice integration lets people use Siri like they are already used to on other Apple devices. And talking about Apple devices, everything you do on the Apple Vision Pro is synchronized with your other devices like the Apple Watch or the iPhone, which is cool. Some apps are also getting integration with XR features in a super-smart way: during the keynote, at a certain point, they showed the possibility that a person sends an iMessage with a 3D model inside, and that 3D model is extracted and viewed in AR in the environment by the receiver. Very cool.
I’m sure UX and polish will be the two factors that will make this headset better, even more than it appears on paper. I expect it to “just work”, and feel much better made than its competition. Sometimes a polished package is what you need: the Valve Index on paper looked just “a bit better” than its competitors, but all the small innovations together made of it the best PC VR headset that you could buy in those years. I guess with Apple, it will be the same.
The UX is nothing less than what I was expecting from Apple and is superior to the one of competitors like Meta (the Quest UI is a mess) and HoloLens (where the arms get tired after a while).
This is instead the category in which I expected something more from the launch. Summarizing, the main use cases depicted by Apple have been:
- Screen substitution for watching movies, series, sports. Or to enlarge your screen
- Productivity: have a call with your peers, examine 3D models together. Enlarge your Mac to have many multiple screens around you where to use Word, Zoom, or whatever you want
- Wellbeing, especially relaxation
- 3D memories: record with your glasses some 3D memories of something that is happening around you, then play them back
- Gaming: play your favorite games on a giant screen, or enjoy AR adventures
When the keynote was over, I was like: IS IT THIS ALL??? I mean, I was skeptical that Apple could find a use case that the XR community had not already explored in these 10 years, but I hoped to be surprised. If we exclude the 3D memory thing, all the rest are use cases that we can date to 2016 maybe.
The headset is strongly focused on 2D media consumption: watching movies, series, and sports shows. This is something we were expecting from the rumors, but it reminds us a lot of the Gear VR. Yes, this one has passthrough, 4K screens, etc… but still, it’s a very old and very not-immersive use case. Even when talking about games, the first mention was to Apple Arcade games you can play on a giant screen. And the video trailer showed a guy playing with a gamepad and the Apple headset, like people playing with the Oculus CV1 at launch.
Watching content on a giant screen is nice, but not a must-have feature. People watch Netflix content on the small screen of their phones and are happy with it. And the phone is still better because you can’t wear this headset outside on the bus in full mobility as you do with your phone unless you want to be a next-gen glasshole. And the other problem is that it is solitary media consumption: if you want to watch Netflix with your friends, you can do it in front of a laptop, but not with a Reality Pro. So it’s a nice thing, but not a perfect one.
Let’s talk about the productivity use case: we know it very well because it is already available since years in VR. Even here, the “collaboration” was very 2D, with everything being about videocalls. I hoped to see at least a sequence where two 3D avatars collaborated together on something… but instead, we had Zoom on steroids.
There was a rumor about Apple going to launch realistic avatars, and instead, we just got a feature through which you can scan your face with your headset, and then have an avatar that has more or less your face that you can use when doing calls with the headset. It’s basically what Spatial already does now, maybe a bit more polished. In the images shown during the keynote, the avatar appeared to me as entering the uncanny valley, so it was cringe to me. I don’t think I would use it.
Relaxation in XR is amazing, and we have already millions of applications doing it on the other headsets. So it’s a good use case, but nothing new.
3D memories instead are dope. You can look at something while you have your headset on, record it as a 3D recording, and then re-watch it in an “immersive” way later, whenever you want. This is very cool and is a feature I would love to have. But on AR glasses. I mean, now, who would go to a party with this headset on to record the best moments? You would look cringe. And if you don’t have it on, would you ever take the headset off the bag, turn it on, launch the recording app, and then record? It would be too slow. My bet is that this feature will be made compatible with iPhones so that you can record the 3D memories not only with the headset, but also with the camera app on your phone (which has a LiDAR on), and then live the memory through the headset.
3D memories are cool, but I’ve seen no mindblowing use cases for this headset, to be honest. Screen replacement is of course useful, but we already have had it for ages in VR. It’s good they optimized the resolution to have text readability, but apart from that, there is nothing new. Let’s also remember that the Vision Pro has just 2 hours of battery… so it’s not much time to be productive. It can be a good alternative to the laptop on the plane sometimes. It can be good to have a giant screen to watch movies. But, as I’ve said before, this is more a nice-to-have than a must-have. And for the prices it has, either it is a stellar screen replacement, or having a laptop or a tablet most of the time is enough.
It’s interesting that most use cases they showed were mostly 2D… there was not much attention to 3D immersive stuff, if we exclude the Disney announcement and some other tidbits (like the relaxation example, or the possibility of entering into 3D spaces). This is truly a headset marketed as a screen substitution, or something that can anyway become your new Mac, or new iPad. 2D apps all around you, this is what they are selling. Which is useful, it’s easily understandable by everyone, but probably much underwhelming if compared to what an XR headset can do.
I had the impression they are doing the “California roll” thing: they are trying to introduce a new technology by just using existing use cases that everyone can get, so that to make people transition to it, and then, when people are used to the new device, they can go deeper and popularize XR-native stuff. “Buy a headset so that you can have a larger screen everywhere” is something that can be easily understood even by people that have never worn such a device, while “buy a headset to try a shooter game in an immersive way that is very cool but you can’t understand why” is much more difficult to sell without a proper in-person demo. But still, I don’t think it is something for which people are going to rush and buy the Vision Pro. Some professionals will do, though.
In my latest roundup, I said that I would be interested in discovering who could be the partners of Apple at launch. Among the examples, I’ve said Disney… and in fact, Disney has been the first announced content partner.
We’ve been shown a few ideas on how Disney content can look inside the Vision Pro: most of them were 2D stuff (watching cartoons, sports, etc… on a big screen), but there were a few things that caught my attention. One was watching the replays of sports actions in 3D, which was great.
Plus there were immersive underwater experiences, and the possibility of having Mickey Mouse jumping in the room together with you. Another interesting one was “Marvel Studio What If”, which looked like a storytelling experience in AR. Someone on my Twitter feed compared it with Fragments on HoloLens 1 and I think the comparison may be correct. The partnership with Disney is pretty exciting, because Disney has lots of content, plus it has also the team and the IP to create amazing immersive experiences.
The second partner was Zeiss, which collaborated on the creation of the prescription inserts for the glasses.
The Apple Vision Pro will have a dedicated store for XR apps. It will have tools for building for it, and aside from the usual Apple tools, developers can use Unity to create content for it. You may wonder where is Unreal, well… maybe I have to remind you about which company brought Apple in court for Fortnite…
I see this headset as an AMAZING opportunity for developers. Apple is going to make his XR ecosystem grow a lot in the next 5 years, and being among the first ones in the store in a certain category can be an opportunity to become a new to-go app in that category. Meta has its inaccessible walled garden store where it is impossible to enter, and everyone that is not there can try new luck in this new store. Believe it or not, but Apple Store, even on phones, has less stringent requests than Meta’s. In the beginning, there won’t be much money because this headset will be niche, but over time, in a few years from now, with cheaper models coming to the market, the apps that will stick, will have great revenues, in my opinion.
So, considering that Apple is only promoting a few floating screens as official apps, there is free real estate for developers to create new amazing XR apps in this new ecosystem and shine. The Vision Pro is incredibly powerful (a M2 chip + R1 coprocessor), so I’m sure that we developers can come out with fantastic immersive applications that can truly give life to it. Most probably we can create experiences with a level of polish that is not possible on Quest or on HoloLens. We can be the ones creating the real immersive ecosystem that goes beyond the damn 2D screens.
We of VRROOM will be surely on board with that and will try to see how we can innovate music and concerts on the Apple Vision Pro. The same, it could be interesting to port NTW’s fitness game HitMotion: Reloaded to that.
Tim Cook has clearly called the technology “Augmented Reality”, so Apple did not invent any fancy names for it. Which is good news. The woman that spoke about the SDK also said “passthrough”.
The rumors talked about an operating system called “XROS”, which sounded strange to me because XR sounds bad for Apple standards, and in fact, they called it the much more pleasant “VisionOS”.
Price and availability
The headset starts at the price of $3499 and will be available starting next year at first in the US, and then in the rest of the world.
The price is very high for what they offer, which is basically something you can already do with a Quest. It’s so high that most people can’t afford it. Remember that in the US, salaries are much higher than in other parts of the world, so if in San Francisco $3499 may be worth “just” the rent of a month, in Italy, it is 2.5 months of the whole net salary of an average person. No one in my country is going to buy it, unless they are rich, or they find a use case that is worth that money. I mean, I’ll buy it, but because I need it for my work as blogger, and CTO. I have a purpose that is worth that money, but most people, do not.
And the availability for next year is a bummer: all the holiday sales will be lost. PSVR 2 already tasted how hard it is launching after the holidays, and I think that Apple will find this an issue, too.
… but remember one more thing
Overall, I’ve been quite underwhelmed: the headset is super expensive, it is coming later than expected, it is less pretty than I wished for, and has no super-compelling use cases. The last one is the point that disappointed me the most: at $3499 you need to give people a strong reason to buy, and I don’t think this headset has any valid reason to convince average people to spend that money. It is true that the “giant screen” feature is understandable by everyone, but there are not many people around for which a giant screen is a must-have, for many is a nice-to-have. Regarding whatever they announced, I see no compelling reason to make people rush to the store to buy this device. This confirms my speculation that this headset will sell a few units, but will not be disruptive to the market now. Which is ok.
But let’s all remember one thing: Apple has a relentless amazing execution. Every time they announce a new phone, we all mock the new features, we say “oh, it’s arriving on iPhone after ages on Android”. But in the end, Apple is always the company with the phone to buy. And the reason is that it has a fantastic brand, it releases ultra-polished products, and it can sell very well whatever it does. Now we are doing the same: we are mocking Apple because it has released an upgraded GearVR, but I’m sure it will release a headset that is ultra-polished, super-well integrated with the other Apple devices, and will market it as the next cool thing. If I were you, I wouldn’t underestimate Apple’s execution and marketing machine. I’m sure they will do a great job with this headset. I’m not saying that this headset will become mainstream, it will not for the reasons stated above, but Apple will make it appear as the “next cool thing to buy” as soon as the prices become more affordable. This is how it will secure more sales with the next iterations.
At the end of the day what is important is that Apple launched an XR product. Entering the field, it has endorsed the importance of XR as the next technological platform, and this will enhance our ecosystem. Its first product is a good start, but of course, it will require many iterations to reach mainstream adoption. Many people compared this device with the Apple Watch regarding the slow start, but remember that also the iPhone needed the 3G moment to really skyrocket. Today is a great day because Apple made its first step. The road to mainstream adoption has just started, and it will happen over time and over many iterations of this device, and the ones of its competitors.
I’m here to not only follow this road but also to help in paving it. And you?
(Header image by Apple)
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