Apple Unveils Vision Pro "Spatial Computer"
And now for something completely different. Apple devoted the final third of its keynote to unveiling a mixed-reality headset it calls Vision Pro. Even though it fits on the user’s head like bulbous ski goggles, Apple prefers to call it a spatial computer. That’s probably to avoid charged terms like metaverse, although the Vision Pro does provide both augmented reality, where digital objects are superimposed on a view of the real world, and virtual reality, where an immersive digital environment blocks out the real world.
Apple said the Vision Pro would ship early next year, starting at $3499. The high price accurately reflects the impressive amounts of technology Apple has shoehorned into the device but puts it out of reach for all but the most inquisitive and flush early adopters. What will the Vision Pro make possible for that money?
The Vision Pro blends digital content with the physical world, providing a three-dimensional interface controlled by the user’s eyes, hands, and voice. Users can display apps as floating windows or bring a Mac’s screen into Vision Pro as an enormous 4K display. Along with controls triggered by eye tracking and hand gestures, plus a virtual keyboard, users can use the Magic Trackpad and Magic Keyboard for faster interaction.
FaceTime calls using the Vision Pro take advantage of the space, putting other callers in life-size tiles and providing a shared screen. Speakers in the headset provide spatial audio, so it sounds like people are speaking from where their tiles are positioned. Vision Pro users don’t show up looking like they’re wearing the headset; instead, they’re represented by a digital avatar Apple calls a Persona. Will it escape the uncanny valley?
The Vision Pro is an easier sell for entertainment, where many people prefer immersive experiences, whether watching a movie on what seems like a 100-foot screen or playing a game where you see nothing but its virtual world. A Digital Crown lets the user control how much of the physical world seeps through around the edges.
If you’re thinking it would be unsettling to be in the same room with someone wearing a Vision Pro, you’re not alone. In an attempt to reduce that sense, a technology called EyeSight makes the device seem transparent—it shows an image of the user’s eyes on a front-facing display for others to see. How effective this will be remains to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine the Vision Pro becoming a fashion accessory.
There’s a great deal more to the Vision Pro, such as its ability to record and play back 3D movies with spatial audio, wrap panorama photos around the user, and use familiar iPhone and iPad apps. Despite the incredible hardware and software that Apple has invented to bring the Vision Pro to fruition, it feels like a technology demo. And it does demo well, judging from reports from people like tech analyst Ben Thompson.
But the Vision Pro is at least 6 months from emerging from Apple’s reality distortion field, and many people are already highly dubious that the company’s vision for the future of computing will do a better job with the real-world tasks we already do with today’s digital devices.