Like many tech enthusiasts, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the announcements at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference 2023. There had been wild rumors of a new Mac Pro, and a new AR/VR product which would be an absolute game-changer in the world of consumer technology. Is VR the future, just another gadget, or something worse?
My assumption was that Apple would carry on their trend of not being first to market a new piece of tech, but being the company to bring it into the mainstream, such as with the iPad, Apple Watch, and FaceTime video calling. Apple certainly wasn’t the first company to launch a consumer tablet, or smartwatch, or introduce video calling, but they arguably made all of these things much more accessible and mainstream. The word "iPad" is synonymous with consumer tablets, and the Apple Watch is the best-selling watch in the world. Whatever your thoughts on the products, there's no denying that Apple is great at marketing
I’ve heard various tech commentators suggest that Apple is a marketing company first and a tech company second, that’s probably not that much of a stretch. The buzz and the hype that Apple managed to create over relatively small annual cellphone and tablet updates year on year, as well as making refined versions of old concepts exciting again, or making niche gadgets appeal to the mainstream market is really quite impressive in itself.
When I sat down to watch the WWDC 2023 keynote, I am not ashamed to say that I was genuinely excited. I was looking forward to seeing a new piece of tech that could potentially disrupt the consumer tech world. Much to the annoyance of my partner, when Tim Cook put his finger up, I spoke the words “One More Thing” along with him. I guess this is how sports guys feel when watching something exciting happen to their favorite team.
Then came the announcement of Apple Vision Pro, the new AR/VR headset that had been much rumored. I watched the video announcement and found myself amazed by the technology, it really is an impressive piece of kit and an absolute marvel of modern technology. The productivity uses were as expected; being able to create virtual workspaces in your real office that can be as large as you want, and placed anywhere would be great for small working spaces. Seeing someone watch a movie on a virtual big-screen TV that could be placed anywhere in the room was very enticing too. And all of this can be controlled by nothing more than your voice, eye tracking, and hand gestures. The eye tracking technology is especially exciting if it works as they claim. So far, just wow!
Considering how competent Apple has historically proven to be at marketing tech products, it was very interesting to see how they positioned this new product compared with other similar products. Unlike other headsets such as the Meta Quest, there was almost no mention at all of gaming at all, no Beat Saber, or virtual archery to see. The Vision Pro was squarely aimed at the general consumer market; the launch promo showed people who work in offices, people who create content, people who watch movies, people who have families, and people who travel by airplane. This is a product targeted at as much of the general population as possible, not a quirky or niche gadget. The Vision Pro is pitched to give you more space to work in a flexible way, and to enhance your consumption of movies and tv shows, as well as capturing important moments with your family in high quality or even in 3D.
What I hadn’t anticipated was just how uncomfortable I felt watching this technology demo. Features such as the user's eyes being shown on the outside of the device came across as a little creepy. I found myself very uncomfortable watching people walking around their homes with this headset on interacting with their families, especially the interactions with children. Personally, I didn’t like the idea that a person could become completely immersed in a virtual world in their own home with their family shut out. This announcement felt to me like watching an episode of Black Mirror, or some other alternative near-future dystopian world. Considering how excited I was to see what Apple had planned, I didn’t like this at all.
When Apple started to compare this device to a “high-powered computer and home entertainment system” I knew the price was going to be high, the $3,499 launch price was a little higher than I expected but I’m sure the technology alone is worth that much. When I’m looking to buy a home entertainment system, I’d rather one that my whole family can enjoy together, and one which had a longer battery than 2 hours — although you can plug your head-mounted entertainment system into a wall outlet.
Perhaps I’m not in the majority here, but I look forward to evenings on the sofa with my partner watching a movie or binging a series. We might occasionally doom-scroll on our phones because it’s 2023 and we’re all mildly addicted to our devices, but we both appreciate the time together, and I wouldn’t want to put on a headset to immerse myself in a different world. I appreciate this might be a great device for someone who lives alone, lives with family, or in another shared housing arrangement, but it's not for me. I'm also not a gamer, so I'm not used to shutting myself away for extended periods. I even like to do my editing or art in the same room as my family.
For me, Vision Pro is Vision No. At least the battery life is only 2 hours, so you won’t be stuck in a virtual cocoon for too long with this generation of the product, but who knows what Apple Vision Pro 2 will bring?!
One of my favorite parts of my day is when I get home from work, my daughter sees me come in with a big smile on her little face. I don’t care how good the camera and sensors are, or how many pixels are being pumped into my eyes, I always want to see that firsthand.
My reaction to this new device got me thinking about technology and how it’s received by the public. Is this the future of consumer technology? In another 10 years will we see a lot of people walking around with Tony Stark-style glasses on interacting with a virtual world overlayed on the real world? And, more upsettingly, will my generation look at them the same way that members of older generations today don’t understand the appeal of social media, or smartphones?
Is this technology scary and creepy, is AR/VR the future of consumer technology, or am I getting old? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, but please be kind!