Is Apple’s $3,500 Vision Pro more than just another tech toy for the rich?

  • June 6, 2023
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There’s a disconnect between the eye-watering price of Apple’s new ‘spatial computing’ gadget and the promise of it – but it has some genuinely novel features

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Yesterday, Apple finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in Silicon Valley, and announced the Vision Pro, its $3,499 virtual reality headset. From our story:

The headset allows users to interact with “apps and experiences”, the Apple vice-president of human interface design, Alan Dye, said, in an augmented reality (AR) version of their own surroundings or in a fully immersive virtual reality (VR) space.

“Apple Vision Pro relies solely on your eyes, hands and voice,” Dye said. “You browse the system simply by looking. App icons come to life when you look at them; simply tap your fingers together to select, and gently flick to scroll.”

EyeSight, which sounded so ridiculous, could actually … work? A curved, outward-facing OLED screen displays the wearer’s eyes to the outside world, giving the impression of the headset as a simple piece of translucent glass. The screen mists over if the wearer is in a fully immersive VR space, while allowing people to have (simulated, at least) eye contact when in AR mode.

An array of downward and outward-pointing IR cameras let the headset keep track of your position and gestures at all times, allowing the company to build a controller-free experience without requiring the wearer to hold their hands in their eye-line when using the headset.

An AI-powered “persona” (don’t call it an avatar) stands in for you when you make a video call using the Vision Pro. It’s a photorealistic attempt to animate a real picture of you, using the data the headset captures of your eye, mouth and hand movements while you talk. Even in the staged demos, it looked slightly uncanny, but it seems a far smaller hurdle to introduce into the world than trying to encourage people to have business meetings with their Memoji.

Should VR headsets have a bulky battery mounted on your head, or should they rely on a tethered cable to a separate PC? Apple thinks there’s a third option: slip the bulky battery in your back pocket, and run the cable up to a lighter, more comfortable set of goggles. It could work. Or it could be the worst of both worlds: a cable that still inhibits movement and comfort, with none of the power of a real tethered VR system. Hey, not all novelty is a slam-dunk.

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