Code Rush is een terugkerende podcast over de uitdagingen van front-end design en ontwikkeling in een veranderende industrie.
My thoughts on Apple Vision Pro
The Apple Vision Pro was released exclusively in the United States last week and, to my surprise, got mostly positive and very forgiving reviews. Technology excites me much less than it used to in the past. I think this is mostly due to getting older and realising, through experience, that technology rarely actually makes my life better. It’s not what really matters. This piece is very opinionated, but I wanted to share my personal thoughts based upon lots of reviews and my own brief experience.
I’ve been skeptical of the Vision Pro since the initial reveal and followed the various previews and reviews with great interest. One thing that really struck me in the past weeks, amidst all the coverage, is how little appeal it actually had to me compared to Apple’s flashy marketing material. Reviewers state that it's really hard to review virtual reality devices, and I understand why. You just can’t capture the “magic”' and viewers won’t be able to feel it as they consume those reviews on a 2D monitor. I’ve experienced VR quite a few times before and have a good imagination for how the interface of this machine would feel and look. But even my imagination couldn’t convince me that this device was actually going to be all that useful to me. Not after the reveal and not after the reviews. Yesterday I tried the Vision Pro (thank you Jack) and it confirmed my suspicions. The Vision Pro, in its current state, is an extremely impressive piece of technology, but also an overpriced nonsense machine.
For a headset, the Vision Pro is a premium looking machine. It seems well made, from the choice of materials to how the various headbands snap on and off. It embodies the design ethos of Apple. The passthrough of footage of your surroundings, captured by the camera’s, gets displayed on two 4k screens right in front of your eyes with barely any latency. This works well. However, you’re still constantly looking at footage of a camera on a screen, as opposed to actually seeing the real world. Especially when you try to read stuff like your phone.
The eye tracking intelligently blurs the part of your vision that is out of focus, together with the crisp and good-looking interface, this truly delivers a sight to behold. I was especially impressed with how good and steady the windows appear within the 3d environment. There’s no stuttering, it’s like they really exist. The audio is pretty great too. Apple’s face computer is high-tech piece of equipment.
Currently the killer feature for me seems consuming media on it. Scaling up a video to a huge screen and immersing yourself by watching Star Wars on Tatooine, might be partly a gimmick, but it’s definitely fun. It’s a lonely experience however, you’ll watch those video’s on your own, cut off from your surroundings. This is definitely a perk in some situations, like on an airplane, but I try to avoid those situations as much as possible.
The Apple Vision was given the name “Pro”. Looking at the apps available, I find this hard to justify. Yes, $3500 dollar is definitely a Pro price, but (just like on the iPad Pro) I can’t code websites on the Vision Pro without attaching my 2k+ MacBook Pro. To think the iPad Pro is almost 10 years old and Vision OS is based upon iPadOS, I don’t see this change anytime soon. There are currently no Apple Pro apps for editing audio and video and third party apps are limited. As most reviewers note: this could all change in the future and this is a first generation product that just got released. It did get released though, it does wear the Pro moniker and it will set you back $3500. During my brief testing, I could imagine myself doing tasks like writing emails, creating presentations and spreadsheets, viewing my photos, and sending iMessages. The basic Apple ecosystem apps are available, and yes, as a professional I use those apps every now and then, and I would expect them to work. But I don't really see real productivity happening for me. There’s no apps that enable it, and besides the novelty, there’s simply no actual benefit in floating apps in a 3d space. I can place my email in front of me, a Safari window to the left, iMessage to the right and my notes on the ceiling. Once you’ve got those windows setup you can tilt your head around and get work done, but I find I’d rather hit
cmd+tab on a high res monitor in front of me. It feels a lot better ergonomically as well.
Virtual Reality is well-suited for gaming. The Vision Pro depends on the Apple App Store and the choice in serious gaming is limited on it. None of Apple’s platforms are currently real competitors for actual gaming platforms like Windows or consoles. And for both for Windows and Playstation you can get VR headsets for a fraction of the cost. This situation could change in the future, but Apple alienating developers with malicious compliance regarding EU regulations and selling developers a $300 dollar USB-C dongle to deploy big software on the headset, they seem to be making a hard case for themselves.
I’ll be brief. The Vision Pro didn’t feel comfortable on my face, like any headset I’ve ever tried. It’s heavy, it’s bulky and worst of all: it made me sweat a lot around the eyes. As much reviewers pointed out, the headset should be more comfortable using the Dual Loop Band. It won’t stop the sweating though.
Like many of Apple’s products these days, the Vision Pro wasn’t as reliable as Apple claims. For example, your primary text input will be Siri. Yes, Siri. Siri is extremely unreliable on any Apple device I have and the Vision Pro seems like no exception. On my first try to enter a URL into Safari it massively screwed up understanding where I wanted to go and made me feel frustrated immediately. It immediately made me want to use a Magic Keyboard instead. While impressive, the eye tracking wasn’t perfect. There were multiple occasions where I had trouble selecting the right button. Now it could be this gets better over time as you use the product more. But for it being the primary user input, I don’t want it to be impressive, I want it to be perfect. Like using a mouse.
Using the Digital Crown for various actions feels clunky and disrupts the experience. I found it hard to find the button. I’m hoping Apple can replace this functionality with actual gestures.
Upon testing the personas (Apple’s digital rendition of you) we tried multiple FaceTime calls, but the persona just didn’t come through on the receiver’s end. Personas are still labeled as beta, but it was a bummer to not see them for real. Apple created them to replace your invisible face. Your face is not available after all, because you’re supposed to be immersed within your headset. I can’t help but think that the irony here is that chatting with a bunch of Persona’s decreases the immersion we actually want.
As noted by many reviewers, Eye Sight, the feature where the front-facing display shows a rendition of your eyes, is almost absent. It’s very hard to see eyes actually show up on that display, and when they do they look weird and glitchy.
We tried to use a Mac Virtual Display, which most reviewers describe as the Vision Pro’s best feature. This feature renders a 4k image of your Mac within the 3d space. Using the Mac’s traditional input methods (trackpad and keyboard), you can use your Mac on a large screen in front of you. We had a MacBook in place where the primary Vision Pro user was signed into using their iCloud account, but it simply didn’t work. The connect button never appeared, so we weren’t able to test this feature.
The biggest issue
The biggest issue I have with the Vision Pro is the lack of multi-user support. Only one person can use this machine, which costs $3500. There’s a guest mode for demo purposes, but access to the Apple ecosystem, including purchases, subscriptions, content, and photos, is limited to only one person. I truly hope this will change, but the fact that you still can’t share an iPad (Pro) doesn’t give me much hope for the future. Seriously, my iPad Pro “supercharged” by M2 cannot be used to its full extend by anyone in my family but me. Apple forces (or wants) you to buy multiple iPads and Vision Pro’s. This really makes me doubt their true environmental intentions which they like to pat themselves on the back with in their marketing outings. They’ve come under scrutiny as well for their “Carbon Neutral” claims as well lately. Yes, Apple does make a lot of effort int his regard, but you could also argue Apple is partly guilty of greenwashing.
The big question I had after the reveal, reviews, and actually trying the Vision Pro was: “Why?”. What is the benefit of wearing a sweaty and uncomfortable headset that requires you to be tethered to a battery and likely a wall outlet most of the time? Yes, I can see myself consume media on it, but I actually doubt if putting it on, keeping a battery charged, having a wall outlet nearby is going to be worth the effort as opposed to flicking on my 4k OLED display after the novelty wears off. Professionally, I don’t think it can surpass a physical monitor in front of me. Yes, there are use cases where you would want to use your Vision Pro to create a Mac Virtual Display but I think those situations will be rare and they do not justify the hefty price tag.
Perhaps future smaller generations and software updates will resolve these issues and improve the experience. And a killer app that you can’t live without might arrive at some point. Only time will tell. For now, in my opinion, the Vision Pro is not worth it. And I’m currently not convinced if it’s going to be another Mac, iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch success story. Especially not in this form factor. I could very well be proven wrong though.
PS: I really enjoyed the review from The Verge. It seemed very detailed and fair. It’s worth a look.
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