WWDC is normally an event dominated by the vast array of changes ad new features coming to the software that underpins all the devices we use. iPhones, iPads, Macs, Watches and all the new little tweaks coming to all those existing devices. But yesterday’s true headline was the entry of Apple into a new virtual reality space, with the Apple Vision Pro.
Today, I got the chance to try it out with my own eyes, and it’s remarkable.
On the Apple Park campus a while new building has been built – temporary, but as good as any permanent structure. It’s a huge white box off the Football field, and it reminded me of 2014, at the Flint Center in Cupertino where Apple announced the iPhone 6, their first larger screen phone the iPhone 6 Plus, and – One More Thing – the Apple Watch.
So it’s fitting that the next hardware based “one more thing” from Apple should also get a big white box constructed for demos to take place.
On arrival, I was greeted and a fitting process began.
This involved taking 3D measurements of my head and face using an app on an iPhone. A Similar process to the setup of FaceID on an iPhone, this helps establish the size of the inner comfort mount on the device, the thing that actually presses onto your face the whole time you’re wearing it.
Then using the same phone, I took digital images of my ears, to setup the spacial audio experience too.
Finally, as someone who wears reading glasses, I was asked to hand them over to allow them to find and fit the right lenses for me on the Apple Vision Pro.
Now all of this is required for owners too, with Apple saying most of that would take place in-store. But for those who order online, the Apple Store app can undertake the scanning process, but your lenses will be shipped from Zeiss based on your prescription.
It should be noted that lenses to suit your eye strength are an additional cost, and might take additional time to arrive.
Once done, and my Vision Pro setup, I was ushered into my own personal lounge room ready to take a look.
The device is not lightweight, it carries its weight at the front, there’s no counter balance or distribution along the headband at all, and the battery is separate and can sit next to you or in your pocket if you get up and walk around.
On the top are two buttons, one on the left a shutter to capture Spatial Photos and Videos, the other the Digital Crown which you press to bring up the home screen or remove all apps. Push and hold to re-center your view.
I placed the Vision Pro on my head and instantly knew what Tim Cook meant by the first Apple device you look through not at.
The room around me was clear, colour, and no latency I could detect.
But – it was not like just sitting in the room. There was a different tone and resolution to the room, and my field of view was narrowed. Instead of turning my eyes to look I have to turn my head. Not a deal breaker, but certainly important to know how to understand the space around you and use it to the fullest of it’s potential.
Likewise, despite getting a personal fit, the actual fit of the device was tough to finalise. I spent 10 of my 40 minutes with it sitting too low and needing me to tilt my head up to “look” at things properly.
Once I adjusted that height, it was great. But I think Apple could create some sort of calibration app to ensure people are wearing it right.
You need to undertake an eye and hand calibration which takes no time at all, but means all the control of the device works perfectly. And this is critical, because there are no hand controllers here.
Of course for work you can pair a keyboard and mouse, but for the most part navigating the impressive menus is all done by looking at stuff with your eyes and tapping your index finger and thumb together and releasing them to click.
Pinch your fingers together and hold while moving your hand left to right and you can swipe and scroll.
This was entirely intuitive and took just one try to learn and understand, it felt utterly natural.
Any window you open can be moved by pressing on a large line below it and holding to move it around. You can push a window away from you, or bring it closer.
Honestly, the navigation and control here is first class, next level.
On other headset systems you are holding clunky controllers wondering if they are around the right way or in the right hand, then any hand gesture stuff you’re reaching your hands up in front of you.
Apple made this normal. Sitting on a couch, hand on my leg, just pinch, touch fingers, no hand movement requried.
That’s the big deal here for me.
I watched Avatar in 3D and it was amazing.
Experienced a Dinosaur interactive 3D demo which included a butterfly flying onto and landing on my outstretched finger, sitting there as I moved my hand around – amazing.
Looked at panoramic photos like never before, and experienced an immersive video experience which Apple hopes will become a new format for content in this space.
Photos taken on the headset look stunning, as do videos. But, I don’t ever see myself taking photos with this, that would take you out of the moment so what’s the fun in that? BUT – lets imagine the iPhone 16 is release with Spacial Photo capability allowing us to capture on our phones, but share and enjoy on the Vision Pro.
After 30-40 minutes using the Apple Vision Pro, I took it off, and felt a literal weight had lifted off my face – I may have had it a touch tight, but felt i needed to to keep that perfect position.
The battery lasts 2 hours, but I suspect you could plug it into a wall power USB-C and just use it as long as you want if in position. However, 2 hours would be enough I think.
The Bottom Line: is the Apple Vision Pro going to be a success?
Impossible to say.
But, let me look at it this way, I think we’re all uncomfortable wearing things like this – we look silly, and that’s not going to change just because Apple made the most beautiful one yet.
What matters is can we find the killer App – the unstoppable use-case.
When iPhone was created in 2007, it was a phone, music player and web browser. Today it does millions of things, things Steve Jobs would never have imagined.
On that basis, the killer app for Vision Pro is the App Store. The Success of Vision pro and Apple’s push into “Spacial computing” rests with developers coming up with amazing ideas.
Otherwise, it’s bloody cool, but isn’t compelling enough.