“Don’t mention AI.”

I assume that’s what Tim Cook told his entire executive team in the lead-up to WWDC 2023. Those two letters weren’t uttered once during yesterday’s mammoth two-hour, six-minute keynote.

Lots of other stuff was unveiled, though.

Lots. In fact, far too much for one blog post from yours truly, therefore I’m going to provide my digested thoughts on everything from iOS 17 to macOS Sonoma over the coming days and weeks.

Today, I’m going to focus on Vision Pro and reveal why I think it is both incredibly exciting and easily one of Apple’s biggest punts to date.

What is Apple Vision Pro?

Vision Pro is Apple’s first spatial computer. It runs a brand-new operating system, visionOS, and “seamlessly blends digital content with your physical space”. That makes it both an AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) headset.

It’ll start at $3,499 and launch in the U.S. next year, with other countries to follow thereafter (although no time frame was provided for its proliferation across the globe).

Apple Vision Pro

The hardware is bonkers. Each eye is treated to a display that’s the size of a postage stamp, but which features more pixels than a 4K TV. Vision Pro also features Apple’s “most advanced Spatial Audio system ever” with audio pod speakers positioned next to each ear and capable of surveying the room with audio raytracing.

Slightly less impressive was the need to carry around an external battery, which is attached to Vision Pro and expected to be fed into, presumably, your back pocket. It delivers two hours from a single charge (it had better be via USB-C!) although can be powered constantly for all-day use.

More impressively, the device is filled with sensors and cameras for precision eye tracking, head and hand tracking, and real-time 3D mapping.

This is all powered by two chips – the M2 (no, really), and a brand-new R1 chip, which is designed specifically to deal with all of the real-time sensor processing that’s required to make Vision Pro work.

Apple has clearly been working on Vision Pro for a very long time indeed.

Putting yourself in visionOS

The demonstrations we saw of visionOS yesterday were as mind-boggling as the hardware powering it.

We were reminded, unsurprisingly, that every major new platform from Apple has introduced an innovative new input model. The Mac had the mouse, the iPod introduced the jog wheel, and the iPhone injected multi-touch into our lives.

Apple Vision Pro

visionOS is controlled with your eyes, hands, and voice.

Apple was careful to emphasise how comfortable visionOS is to use. Rather than having to place your hands in specific positions or grapple with controllers, you can lounge back as you would normally and use small hand gestures to make your way around the interface. Eye tracking also enables you to navigate what’s in front of you just by looking at app icons and controls.

The use cases Apple provided – and those they ignored – were fascinating. There’s clearly a huge play being made for gaming and entertainment with Vision Pro (rolling out Disney CEO, Bob Iger, was a blatant muscle flex), but the conference calling and industrial applications also looked polished and genuinely immersive.

Using the 3D camera to capture and relive moments, and viewing panoramic photos “as though you’re standing right where you took them” puts a whole new spin on the Photos app experience – even if it all felt a bit solitary and somewhat unrealistic with kids (are they really going to sit there patiently without attempting to rip your Vision Pro off your face?).

Apple Vision Pro

Vision Pro integrates with your Mac, too. You can drag the display ‘away’ from your MacBook and place it anywhere you like in true 4K form. Add to that the ability to create a virtual setup with multiple, huge windows floating in front of you, and Vision Pro could become quite the productivity device.

What we didn’t see was any kind of integration with Fitness. For me, that was one of the most believable and troublesome rumours leading up to the reveal of Vision Pro. As much as I liked the idea of throwing oneself into a virtual cycling race, the thought of a sweat-drenched VR headset was rather unpalatable. Perhaps Apple saw the light, there.

So, visionOS does look like a new era of computing.

But it is riddled with problems.

The big challenge

I’ve made my feelings known about VR on multiple occasions. It remains a very nascent technology that has never broken into the mainstream, despite decades of engineering, pockets of fanbases, and adoption by some huge brands.

Apple Vision Pro

There’s just too much faff and dressing up involved. It’s also one of the most solitary forms of computing available. You are literally shutting yourself off from the outside world and removing your eyes from view. Do we really need that in this already detached, and often isolated world?

Apple is attempting to counter this with EyeSight. This is the name given to the outward display which reveals your eyes to those around you while you’re wearing Vision Pro. When immersed, the display glows Siri-like colours which fade out to reveal your eyes if and when you wish to interact with the outside world.

These aren’t your real eyes. They’re synthesised versions of them which are created during the creation of your ‘digital persona’ upon setting up your Vision Pro.

It looks really silly.

I’ve never laughed during a WWDC keynote before. Craig Federighi’s dad jokes sometimes draw a wry smile, but when Apple showed us those googly eyes appearing on Vision Pro I couldn’t help myself. It looked hilarious. I’m smiling now, thinking about it.

This is the challenge Vision Pro faces. I completely understand that Apple has to start somewhere, and they were careful to point out that this is part of a much longer journey. At $3,499, and with what is clearly a very staggered global release, Vision Pro is going to be nothing more than an aspirational product for quite some time.

The tech will filter down. There will be cheaper versions. One day, we’ll reach a point where Vision Pro is just a pair of normal glasses. But, for me, that reality feels decades away – and I’m not convinced we’ll reach it.

Apple Vision Pro

The big question is: does the world have the stomach to wait that long when the current reality requires so much expense and faff? Will a future version of Vision Pro really replace the Mac, iPad, and iPhone in one fell swoop?

Vision Pro has clearly been many years in the making. No doubt influenced significantly by the pandemic and the detached world that period fuelled, Apple is in far too deep to back out now. It’s an educated and deeply researched punt, but I’m afraid that’s exactly what it is. Tim Cook is placing his legacy on this.

Is he doing the right thing? Get involved in the comments!

All Vision Pro images courtesy of Apple

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