Will Apple’s Vision Pro end the VR winter?

Apple Vision ProNot even Meta / Oculus headsets (at $USD 300), or PlayStation or HTC (at half the price of the Vision Pro) have made Virtual Reality even close to a mainstream product.

Apple has a chance of breaking the curse by not caring if its headset is “mainstream” or even a Virtual Reality device.

So Apple’s Vision Pro has lots and lots of sensors (hence the price) inside and outside which makes it not a Virtual Reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) headset (as we usually think of them) but a mixed reality (MR) or extended reality (XR) headset, in that allows degrees of real and virtual elements to be interacted with.

And as per the usual Apple strategy they are happy to own the high end of the consumer device market. They don’t need to own the whole market but define it and let others compete for the bottom. Their only interest in being “mainstream” is being the “Golden Snitch ” that everyone chases. Apple’s press release about the Vision Pro doesn’t say the words “virtual reality,” “VR,” or even “headset”. They do talk of it as an “spatial computer”. Possibly another post desktop/laptop device like the iPad?

They have definitely put a lot of thought into the hardware and the software, pushing the start of the art to the limit of even people internal at Apple thought they should do. The tether to the power source, whether the external battery or plugged in, is an example of such a compromise. But generally it seems like the experience is impressive with the eye and finger tracking, the high frame rate 4k internal displays (also very expensive).

A couple of other comments: Apple showed people mostly sitting down and sometimes standing, not walking around in the world. So this is not what we usually think of as an augmented reality (AR) device. And the low res external displays with the avatar eyes allows for not cutting you off from the real world, as does the trick that when someone walks into your field of vision, they fade into your view in the Vision Pro so you know they’re there.

This version of the Vision Pro is all about getting it into the hands of developers. Apple is currently talking about only 400,000 units. This is not the consumer product vision.

The demo’s that Apple showed had their typical polish and were interesting but nothing “amazing”. However remember that even despite the Steve Jobs reality distortion field the first iPhone (January 9, 2007) was both revolutionary and lame .. until the iPhone 3 or 4. Same with Apple Watch.

Another cationary tale is the Apple Newton which survived from 1993 until it was killed by Steve Jobs in 1997 (when they were in desperate trouble), however it introduced a handheld computer, handwriting recognition, a intelligent assistant” feature that let you perform tasks using natural language (like Siri and Google’s voice assistant) and was running (and Apple invested in) a small British company called Acorn Computers that created to the “Acorn RISC Machine” aka ARM aka Apple Silicone. So the Newton was both too ambitious and set the template for the iPhone ten years later. (In this case Palm is the Android to the iPhone)

So right now it seems hard to see Apple’s Vision ending the VR winter. I expect Apple to create some compelling content like AppleTV + IMAX like films and immersive 4k MLS Soccer (they have the rights and can set up the stadiums to maximum effect.), but there doesn’t seem to be anything you can’t do cheaper with a 70″ 4K and gaming console.

However, with the visionOS sdk now in developers hands and the hardware not available sometime in early 2024 we might have some “killer apps” before 2025(?).

And I don’t doubt Apple stamina. Version 2 of the Vision Pro might be 2025 or 26 and powered by a M3 chip. So less power, heat and maybe weight? How much will battery technology be improved in 3 years? Or maybe we will just accept external battery packs?

By 2028 to 2030 I expect the 3rd device version to have its killer apps and to be alongside a Vision Air (more swim goggles than ski goggles, at a lower price point).

And remember how weird it was to see people with wireless iPods but now we don’t think of it anymore as we walk around staring at glass slabs.

So is the Vision Pro the iPhone or the Newton; has it invented the fundamental technologies and paradigms that we are all going to use in 10 or 20 years?

If anyone can overcome the social aversion to walking around looking stupid with goggles it is Apple. With magic peripheral vision ™! It just might take till 2030 or more to find out.

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