June 6, 2023
After years of speculation and delays, Apple revealed its first XR device yesterday. Apple Vision Pro is a highly impressive first-generation headset that appears to seamlessly blend the real and digital. Here are some observations and first thoughts on what Apple's headset could mean for enterprises.
Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX9qSaGXFyg
APPLE’S VISION: “The era of spatial computing is here.”
Noticeably absent from WWDC 2023 was any mention of the words Metaverse, mixed reality, or virtual reality. Instead, Apple uses “spatial computing” to refer to what most call XR or extended reality.
Nevertheless, Vision Pro is a mixed reality device that’s capable of full immersion (VR). In the keynote, Apple primarily positions Vision Pro as an augmented reality headset, which accords with Tim Cook’s views about AR versus VR. Vision Pro's EyeSight feature reflects what Cook dislikes about VR--that it's an isolating experience. With Vision Pro, though, “you see your world and everything in it.”
INTRODUCING THE MASSES TO SPATIAL COMPUTING: “A stunning new way to use the apps we love.”
Thus far, XR has struggled to convey its value to consumers. In yesterday’s presentation, Apple stressed the ability to bring your favorite apps into your space. Freeing apps “from the boundaries of a traditional display” isn’t a new pitch for XR, but coming from Apple - the apps in question being familiar iPhone and iPad apps and building upon the continuity of Apple devices - it may finally ‘hit home.’
As others have already noted, Vision Pro looks like a pair of ski goggles. The headset may be sleek and lightweight with its curved glass front and aluminum alloy frame, but I was expecting something smaller in size.
The headset mask or Light Seal appears soft and cushiony, while the changeable strap or Head Band is “3D knitted” for breathability and stretch. Apple says both can flex to fit a variety of face shapes and head sizes. The headband will come in three sizes for a more custom fit, and I can see additional sizes and styles becoming available in the future enabling further customization and perhaps additional use cases.
Apple also went with a separate battery to keep Vision Pro as light as possible. A “woven cable” running from the back of the headset to the battery pack is rather unseemly, and with just two hours of battery life, a tethered experience is necessary for extended use. This may not be an issue for users who stand at a desk for much of the day (see below); however, storing the battery in your pocket as shown could be problematic for women.
A modular design, by the way, isn’t new: Both RealWear and Vuzix offer a variety of headbands and mounting options for their AR glasses to accommodate different use cases. The different band sizes and flexible materials of Vision Pro, though, feel new.
Price and availability: Vision Pro will start at $3,499 and launch sometime early next year.
visionOS: Apple’s new operating system for the Vision Pro, which adds a “real-time subsystem” for processing interactive visuals.
Dual-chip design: Uses the M2 and R1. R1 is a new Apple chip designed to eliminate lag. According to Apple, R1 processes images “8 times faster than the blink of an eye.”
Display: From what we've seen, Vision Pro delivers incredible clarity thanks to dual 4K micro-LED displays with a total of 23 million pixels.
23 built-in sensors: 12 cameras (including Apple’s first 3D camera), 5 sensors, and 6 mics enabling eye tracking, hand tracking, and object tracking. Eye tracking also makes foveated rendering possible. (Our eyesight is sharpest at the center and blurrier at the periphery; foveated rendering mimics this to utilize less power.)
Input: Vision Pro is controller-free. Apple plans to rely entirely on gaze, gesture, and voice controls. From the video, gesture control appears very natural. The downward-facing exterior cameras are able to track your hands even if they're resting low on the body (as opposed to pinching the air in front of you; see image below).
Privacy: Highly sensitive eye tracking data has been a cause of concern in VR. Apple directly addresses this with a new authentication system called OpticID, assuring users that “where you look stays private.”
EyeSight: This feature projects a live feed of the user’s eyes to the external display when someone is nearby. One of the disorienting aspects of VR is the disconnect from one's surroundings. With EyeSight, “you’re not isolated from other people.” Alternatively, the headset glows when the user is in full VR.
More: Spatial audio; Unity support; active cooling; magnetic lenses by Zeiss for prescription wearers; dial to adjust the level of immersion.
THE REVEAL: Integrated into work and life
Even more than everyday consumers, Apple’s keynote seemed to target remote workers, showcasing Vision Pro as a kind of WFH gamechanger. “You can create the perfect workspace no matter where you are.”
WWDC marketed Vision Pro as a collaboration and work productivity tool especially for people who work from home. We saw several individuals using the headset as a monitor and for video conferencing at home, at the office, in a hotel room, etc. To that end, you can connect your Mac by simply looking at it and pair the headset with Bluetooth accessories like Apple Magic Keyboard and Trackpad for a variety of work setups. Professional apps like Adobe Lightroom and Microsoft Office will also run natively on Vision Pro at launch.
On FaceTime and other video calls, Vision Pro users will be represented by a Persona, essentially a realistic 3D avatar generated with face scans and a machine learning algorithm. According to Apple, your persona will show your true expressions (your real face and hand movements), while spatial audio will make it feel as if remote colleagues are in the room with you. Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and Zoom will also support Personas.
I’m excited to see what enterprise apps developers come up with for Vision Pro, especially how they make use of Environments (transform your workspace, employee wellbeing, training, marketing, etc.). The price point alone suggests that Apple counts on enterprises being among the first buyers or early adopters of the headset.
If nothing else, Apple entering the XR space legitimizes immersive technologies amid growing doubts about AR/VR/the metaverse. Assuming the experience lives up to the video, Vision Pro is a stellar debut by Apple into a market that has struggled to take off. It is both a milestone and a much-needed push for the XR industry.
That being said, Vision Pro is just one more option for enterprises. There is no one XR headset today for all use cases. Every high-performance headset has its pros and cons. Every design decision comes with a trade-off (Vision Pro’s external battery is a good example), making it more important than ever to do your research and know the requirements of your use case in order to choose the right device for your business.