Apple’s Vision Pro: Redefining Digital Experiences and Beyond
Where are the Apple Avatars in the Vision Pro?? Did you notice that there was no mention of Avatars during the keynote address? While the rest of the spatial computing world is worried about how to make avatars’ legs look “normal,” Apple not only sidestepped the challenge of creating digital legs, there wasn’t even a mention of avatars during the entire keynote! Yet another indication that Apple is intent on changing the way we describe and think about these immersive, three-dimensional digital experiences.
There was no mention of the word Metaverse either (no surprise, given how Meta, formerly Facebook, has gone all in on Metaverse branding. No mention of Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality or Mixed Reality. While that doesn’t surprise me, I do find it odd that there has been relatively little focus on how much Apple has already changed the discussion. Yes, Apple is crafting a new lexicon for us all. But they are forcing us to reimagine what a headset experience should be. Compelling entertainment, media of all kinds readily available, access to full computing power and all the apps we’re already used to using, all while being highly integrated into the visual world we have always known.
Anyway, back to Apple Avatars … oops, I mean “digital personas” … or close-up renderings of our faces. Generally, Apple has a track record of delivering what its promotional pieces promise. Apple’s Vision Pro videos present extremely compelling experiences, so expectations will be high. A few have commented that Apple’s digital personas are a bit eerie, but I think it’s more likely that they will be considered eerily good. The technology behind digital facial representation has made huge leaps in recent years, so much so that deep fakes are now a societal concern. I’m confident Apple’s digital personas will be well received and not unsettling, particularly by the time the device is delivered nine months or so from now. Time will tell.
One last thought on avatar legs: bluntly stated, Apple is playing at a level that transcends the representation of limbs. Maybe Apple concluded that legs wouldn’t be up to the high quality benchmark that Apple has for all its products and software. Legs are indeed very difficult to do well. Or maybe they just concluded, rightly so, that it would be a distraction. There is no reason whatsoever that Apple should get into some sort of “leg off” with its competitors. It’s playing a different game. And most likely, a groundbreaking one.
Redefining Portability with Multiple Screens
Sure was exciting news about the three new laptops Apple announced this week, eh? What’s that? You’re only aware of two — the new MacBook Air (M2) and the MacBook Pro (13-inch, M2)? You might have missed the third laptop … the Apple Vision Pro! Okay, I get it … you’re not liking my labeling the Vision Pro as a laptop. I will explain.
Gone are the days when desktops were the go-to. Apple sells close to three laptops for every desktop now. The key reasons? Size, portability, and convenience of course. It’s perfect for people who are on the go — students, commuters, business travelers. There are drawbacks though. I have multiple monitors on my desktop display, so the laptop screen feels constrained to me. I’m not alone in wanting to see more at once.
If we stop thinking of the Vision Pro as a headset, and start thinking about it as a portable computer, the $3500 price tag no longer seems so steep. Sure, Apple laptops aren’t cheap, but people do buy $3500 laptop configurations from Apple. The Vision Pro will be just as portable — take it to work, to the coffee shop, on a plane, etc. And, unlike your laptop, you will be able to have multiple virtual monitors as well for things like browsing the web, having FaceTime calls, reading through emails, etc. A “laptop” with multiple screens which doesn’t take up lots of space? That might be a better way to think of this device. Comparing it to other VR or AR headsets is natural, but it might also be the wrong comparison. (Side thought: “the killer apps may already be here” and we should just want them to also run on the Vision Pro.)
One last thing … the delivery date of “early next year.” I for one am happy it’s going to be a little while. Well, I am now. Initially, like so many, i was bummed that its wasn’t going to ship in just a few months. But then I started talking to some developer friends of mine. They’re excited about the delay. They want extra time with the “dev kit” before it actually launches. And it won’t just be the developers of brand new software that benefit; developer teams for already available products will too. So when the Vision Pro does ship, the experience will be all the better. At least I am expecting that’s the case.
Pondering the Past, Anticipating the Future
The last several days I’ve been reading Jony Ive’s book titled “Make Something Wonderful,” which encompasses a vast array of Steve Jobs’ correspondences, speeches, and quotations throughout the years. Although Apple hasn’t always adhered to Jobs’ design principles or decisions (take the Apple Pencil, for example), pondering WWSD (What Would Steve Do?) is a reasonable approach for evaluating the choices Apple has been making since Jobs’ death. There couldn’t be a more fitting time to read this book than in the aftermath of the Vision Pro announcement last week.
Prior to this I wrote about the Vision Pro’s adoption prospects, its price point, what market Apple is going after, and what the announcement itself marks beyond just the release of a new device. I took a deep dive into the EyeSight feature and why it could be particularly impacting on adoption and use. During the second half of these, I plan to address where I think the conversation will go during the next few months leading right up to, and including, the delivery of the Vision Pro early next year.
I think it’s important to consider this moment in light of previous eagerly anticipated Apple hardware releases. We’ve all seen a barrage of Vision Pro reviews from both the technology and mainstream press. Stories have included review excerpts from back in 2007 both trashing and praising the iPhone. An especially ill-fated comment was Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer’s: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” Reviews of the Apple Watch release in 2015 reveal significant skepticism. It’s pretty much true of every major hardware release from Apple. Even the wildly successful iPod wasn’t spared —people complained about there being no FM tuner, about how it could only work with Macs, about its price ($399), no ability to record, and on and on.
As I was reading these and other reviews, the greatest insight for me came from Lev Grossman. Writing for Time Magazine on June 30, 2007, Grossman wrote: “Look at the iPods of five years ago. That monochrome interface! That clunky moving touchwheel! They look like something a caveman whittled out of a piece of flint using another piece of flint. Now imagine something that’s going to make the iPhone look like that. You’ll have one in a few years, and it’ll be cheaper, too. If you’re not ready to think different, then think ahead.” That connotes a different vision than simply, “things will get better each year.” Contemplating just how rudimentary early releases are readies us for what will almost certainly be mind-blowing improvements in the coming years. So why adopt early if such improvements are coming? I will address in the next Musing.
– Written by Rob Merrilees