- Apple claims its Vision Pro headset is a leap forward into spatial computing, but in truth this is the metaverse by another name and the same issues that dogged Meta remain.
- Analysts suggest that Apple is playing a long game and at very least has staked its claim to lead in augmented reality.
- Apple won plaudits for the display technology and user experience of its Vision Pro XR goggles but there are doubts as to whether they move the dial on a more fundamental problem: why wear face-gear to access the internet?
READ MORE: Apple’s Vision Pro is an incredible machine. Now to find out what it is for (The Economist)
Vision Pro, Apple’s long anticipated entrance into AR/VR headgear, was announced with much fanfare last week and now everyone is trying to figure out what and who it is for and whether it will be a success.
“The Vision is stuffed with innovations that eclipse every other headset on the market,” The Economist found in its write-up, adding, “The product is dusted with Apple’s user-friendly design magic.”
Blogger Nick Hilton called the device “arguably the most exciting new product on Apple’s slate since the iPhone.”
The device’s eye-tracking “is the closest thing I’ve seen to magic,” tech reviewer Marques Brownlee said in Business Insider.
READ MORE: People who were whisked away in golf carts to try out Apple’s $3,500 headset are calling it ‘magic’ that is ‘still searching for a purpose’ (Business Insider)
VR/AR agency founder Cortney Harding, called Vision Pro “an overnight sensation seven years in the making.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “We believe Apple Vision Pro is a revolutionary product,” and Elav Horwitz, EVP and global director of applied innovation at McCann Worldgroup, took him at his word.
Vision Pro “revolutionizes advertising, integrating digital experiences into the real world,” she theorized. “Streets become immersive playgrounds, and homes transform into immersive stores. Brands can deliver meaningful digital experiences seamlessly.”
In truth it does nothing of the sort, at least nothing that can’t be achieved now on any number of metaverse platforms from Decentraland to Meta Horizons.
Apple’s message is clear: after desktop and mobile computing, the next big tech era will be spatial computing — also known as augmented reality or mixed reality — in which 3D computer graphics are overlaid on the world around the user.
But it didn’t need Matthew Ball, sage of Silicon Valley, to point out the emperor’s new clothes in Apple’s presentation. The idea of spatial computing has been around for longer than the metaverse and is in fact the metaverse by any other name.
We are pretty much where we were before Apple’s launch… that is, a long way from a wearable device that the mass of the population will adopt to access a 3D version of the internet.
If Apple is playing a long game, then what does it hope to achieve in the short term with Vision Pro?
Some this as a victory for AR over VR and a power shift away from Meta, that has struggled to convince anyone that VR is now.
“It feels like Apple will probably force through the advent of AR with Vision Pro,” says Hilton. “It is, after all, the logical extension of a product base that has been tied together, as much as anything, by a shared UX.”
That said, Hilton isn’t convinced that Vision is augmented reality, but is rather an augmented version of a smart phone.
“AR must, definitionally, be something that augments the lived, human experience. [Vision Pro] prioritizes the augmentation of smart phone experiences, rather than human ones. Improving the way we experience FaceTime and Zoom calls is, in my opinion, not a way of unlocking new pathways for the human experience, but a streamlining of extant technological advances.”
The Economist also observed that Apple had “strangely uninspiring suggestions for what to do with its miraculous device.
“Look at your photos — but bigger! Use Microsoft Teams — but on a virtual screen! Make FaceTime video calls — but with your friend’s window in space, not the palm of your hand! Apple’s vision mainly seemed to involve taking 2D apps and projecting them onto virtual screens (while charging $3,499 for the privilege). Is that it?”
There is unanimous agreement that Vision Pro is the state-of-the-art AR or VR headset, but its price point is not the only thing that might put consumers off from actually using it.
Scott Galloway, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, was doubtful:
“I believe these ski goggles will be the company’s first major commercial failure of the century,” he said.
“The device will age as well as candy cigarettes — and Tim Cook knows it. Headsets are a bad form factor, full stop, and no headset-based product will achieve mass adoption. The nosebleed price limits trial, even by influencers and institutions.”
Galloway suggested the whole launch is a cynical exercise to scupper Meta’s plans for Oculus: “This may be the first product in history that’s primary purpose is to remind consumers who can’t afford it how crappy the competition they can afford really is.”
He added, “The $250 billion cosmetics industry helps us mimic visual cues for health and reproductive fertility. There is no version of a headset or goggles that makes us seem more appealing.”
Although a post in response to the article points out that in the metaverse we will be interfacing with each other as photoreal alternative versions of ourselves — so we can appear to others as we desire.
There is also widespread acknowledgement that the first-generation Vision Pro is nowhere near the final iteration of the headset — “in point of fact, it will likely look prohibitively clunky in just a few years’ time,” says Hilton. “But now everyone knows that Apple sees AR as its future.”
Galloway observed something similar, suggesting that the launch was strategically intended to stop Meta from running away with a virtual reality version of the spatial internet.
“Apple doesn’t have to own the headset category to win the war against Meta, or even sell that many,” he said. “The company just has to keep the category unsettled and splintered so Meta doesn’t own it. It has the cash to play spoiler — it generates over $100 billion per year in free cash flow, more than enough to engage in a high-cost, low-ROI arms race.”
READ MORE: Isn’t That Spatial? (Professor Galloway)
The Economist says the real purpose of the Vision was to get the hardware into the hands of developers and thus speed up the march to the metaverse on Apple’s terms.
“Apple will not sell many of the expensive first-generation units, and doesn’t care. Its aim is to get the product to the people who will work out what spatial computing can do.”
Although Apple pointedly didn’t focus on gaming as an application, it did show a demo from Disney extolling the virtues of watching movies on the face screen. Perhaps Apple’s TV and film division will surprise us with some content that can only be appreciated on Vision Pro?
The Economist speculates that surgeons, engineers and architects, or educational institutions might adopt the Vision Pro first — in truth, the same sectors that Meta and Google have been pushing with their mixed-reality gear.
The truth is no one yet knows what the metaverse or spatial computing’s killer use-case might be — or if it even has one.