Some first impressions of the Vision Pro, and thoughts about AR/VR in general

Adam Fields
6 min readJun 6, 2023

I’m an early adopter of things. I love to get excited about new technologies. Sometimes that’s because they fill a need, or offer some new capability I couldn’t do before, and sometimes it’s just that they’re fun to tinker with. From that perspective, I’ve felt like the past few years have been in a real rut. All of the new tech to play with has been saddled with giant conditionals — crypto, LLMs, VR, etc… \

So here comes the Vision Pro, Apple’s new mixed reality headset. I have a lot of impressions about it, some good and some not great. I don’t think I’ll be hopping in just yet, but it’s not a firm no yet without trying it, and I can see a future where this would be a compelling purchase for me.

For a while, Apple has been trying to thread the needle between selling us screens that we love and also introducing new ways to encourage us to get off of those screens faster or need to spend less time with them. Even as there are for sure some affordances for interactions with the real world, with other people in your vicinity, this is a radical shift towards “you’re going to be present in this screen”. Being in the screen is very likely going to be an isolationist experience. It’s notable that there are no real sharing features at all (yet), in the launch video there are no shots of more than one person using multiple headsets at the same time in the same room. This is aimed very squarely at “1 device per person”, like the iPhone and Watch, even though this is largely a content consumption device more akin to the iPad or Apple TV. It’s very early in this product’s lifecycle and it’s hard to even make any predictions about that, it will be interesting to see where it goes in terms of social features and device sharing.

I started experimenting with VR and 3D printing in college, now a good several decades ago. I’ve never really gotten into the modern VR scene — my my glasses prescription is complicated (near and far sighted corrections, astigmatism, prism corrections), so I can’t wear a headset without corrective lenses, and this hasn’t been terribly comfortable with my glasses. I don’t know if this contributes to VR sickness, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I could play Beat Saber for about 15–20 minutes max before experiencing nausea and vertigo. Maybe newer headsets are somewhat better about this, but I haven’t heard a definitive “yes, they’ve solved this problem”. At least some of this issue is the vergence accommodation conflict— the mismatch between where your eyes are focusing on the screen which is actually very close to you and the object which appears to be very far away. There wasn’t anything about this in the demo, and I’d expect if they’d solved it they would have made a big deal out of saying so, so I’m guessing there isn’t any huge breakthrough here.

AR has always seemed like much more of an interesting use case than strict VR, and this was the part of the demo that was most disappointing to me — very very few actual AR capabilities were shown. I suspect a lot of this will come with third party apps doing interesting things, but it would have been nice to see more native AR capabilities in the device. Most of them seem to be centered around presence/awareness for now.

From a popular adoption standpoint, there are a lot of questions about whether people will work this into their lives. I have no illusions that this is anywhere close to the final form for this device — Apple is clearly looking years into the future at the next big thing. In a year or two, it will be half the size and weight, and it may be compelling at a lower price point. But let’s be real for a moment — the device has the capability to record high resolution 3D photos and video tuned for playback on this same device. The use case shown for this is recording your kids’ birthday party, but I have trouble seeing how the killer app for this isn’t porn. Of course you’ll want to preserve your treasured memories, and some people will want to share them.

Relatedly — this ability to record is one of the big things that killed Google Glass in the public eye — it will be interesting to see if there’s backlash against this or we’ve all moved on beyond that. It’s unclear if the “I’m recording” indicator will be prominent enough.

I don’t have a good sense from the demo what it’s going to be like to use this device in person — it’s clearly something that needs to be experienced to have an opinion on. I’m sure Apple has thought of dozens of tiny usability tweaks to make it a great experience, but I don’t have a good sense of whether it’s going to be “meh” or “yeah I need to have this in my life all the time”.

I originally wrote this last paragraph for this piece:

Apple’s halfway hobbies are more polished than most companies’ full product line, and this seems like something they’re throwing a tremendous amount of energy and thought at. It remains to be seen if it will be successful, or how they’ll get it to the point of mass adoption, but I have confidence that they have much more of a plan than is evident in this first release. For me, a lot of this hinges on whether I can actually use it at all given my eyesight, but also on what it becomes. At the very least, it’s exciting and interesting with some potential, and it’s nice to see a product launch that’s highly speculative even if it doesn’t have a clearly defined niche yet. I’m very curious to see where this goes.

But upon further reflection, I don’t think this is the right take. Apple looks ahead pretty far, and it may not even be that the Vision Pro is the product that’s meant to use all of these components. This jumped out at me:

If this is the first one, where else would we see these technological components show up?

  • Super precise eye tracking
  • Dynamic rendering resolution based on where you’re looking
  • A gesture-based hand-tracking UI
  • Realtime 3D environment mapping
  • A whole host of other sensors

I’m sure there are other possibilities, but the obvious one is that all of these are useful construction blocks in building the car that I think Apple is presumably still building. The question that seems most unanswered to me in all of the reviews I’ve read so far is “what is this device really useful for”. I don’t have a great answer to that, and as far as I can tell, no one really ever wants to wear a headset for prolonged periods of time, which makes this is a hard sell out of the gate. But if it is indeed a trial ground for perfecting the underlying technology, that makes a LOT more sense. Apple certainly doesn’t need this product to be successful if they get real-world R&D out of it that may be far more valuable than any of the units sold.

Apple has a long history of taking successful product features and migrating them to other products. It may make sense to look at this from that standpoint, and as part of a technological ecosystem, instead of as a singular product.

Feedback is welcomed! Leave a comment here, or find me @fields@hachyderm.io on mastodon.

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