On the one hand, I was delighted by the headset’s quality. Apple touts the headgear as the beginning of an age of “spatial computing,” in which digital data combines with the actual environment to unleash new possibilities. Imagine putting together furniture with the directions digitally projected onto the pieces, or preparing a meal with a recipe shown in the corner of your eye, while wearing a headset.
The Apple gadget I tried out was much more impressive than the Meta, Magic Leap, Sony, and other headsets of the previous decade in terms of picture quality, ease of use, and overall comfort.
Even after trying out the new headgear and looking at pictures and playing about with a digital dinosaur, I didn’t find a whole lot to be excited about. And it gave me an uneasy feeling I’d never felt before when using an Apple gadget. To be continued.
Let me back up a little and explain. I was able to check out a prototype of the Vision Pro after Apple revealed the headgear on Monday, the company’s first significant new release since the Apple Watch in 2015. At Apple’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, California, an employee showed me to a conference room and seated me on a sofa for a demonstration.
The Vision Pro, which looks like a pair of ski goggles, is powered by a silver battery pack that I tucked into a pocket of my trousers. The cord connecting the two is white. To attach it to my head, I tightened the headset’s knob on the side and fastened the Velcro strap over my skull.
To activate the gadget, I clicked a metal button located on its face. After that, I went through the first setup, which required following a roving dot with my eyes so the headset could track my gaze. The Vision Pro may be controlled in several ways, the most common of which are by using your eyes, hands, or voice. To “hover” over an icon is the same as clicking a mouse button, and to “click” a button is the same as performing a rapid squeeze with your thumb and index finger.
It was also possible to grasp and reposition applications on the screen by pinching. It was easy to use and less cumbersome than other motion controllers included with competitor smartphones.
But it did prompt some inquiries. What additional hand movements may be used with the headset? What kind of quality can we expect from voice commands since Siri’s speech transcription on smartphones is so unreliable right now? Apple didn’t let me test out the voice controls, and they aren’t sure yet what additional motions will be supported.
The next step was to see several software demonstrations that illustrated how the headgear may improve our daily lives and foster more social interaction.
Apple began by showing me how to see a birthday party’s images and video on the headset. To view the actual world, including the Apple workers surrounding me, I simply turned a dial on the front of the Vision Pro anticlockwise; to fully immerse myself, I turned the dial clockwise.
A pop-up window appeared, indicating that another Apple employee also using the headset was calling. I gazed at the phone and gave it a little squeeze before answering.
A “persona,” an animated 3-D avatar of the Apple worker, was being used in the video conversation. The headset had scanned her face to construct the avatar. Apple’s personalities present video conferencing as a more personal and intimate means of online communication and collaboration.
Especially for video games, other headsets from Meta and Sony PlayStation were already fairly powerful and enjoyable, and they were considerably cheaper. However, anytime we had visitors around for dinner and they tried the goggles, they lost interest in them in under half an hour due to the taxing experience and the feeling of social isolation.
Would it make a difference if the headset allowed them to look outside by turning a dial on the front? Being the only person in the room wearing one, I imagine they would still feel lonely.