Apple’s Vision Pro is a Work of Art, but It’s Not Disruptive
Apple’s Vision Pro is a Work of Art, but It’s Not Disruptive
Small form Factor is the key to mass adoption of AR/VR wearables.
I have sometimes been labeled as a cynic on “Metaverse” related technology. In reality, I am nearly always enthusiastic about the ingenuity of technology, but cautious in estimating its impact on work and personal lifestyle. More and more it seems that “This is…a Game Changer” are the most commonly eaten words in the IT industry. This is what guides me in my perspective on Apple’s newly released Vision Pro AR/VR device.
Apple Vision Pro
Apple’s Vision Pro is a beautiful piece of hardware that eliminates a lot of the encumbrances of AR/VR devices. A good rule of thumb is the less hardware the better. The Vision Pro’s reliance on voice, eye tracking and hand navigation instead of straps or hand-held controllers is a great improvement over some competitors. More importantly, the elegance in which the user can select the level of augmented reality versus virtual reality is a powerful feature. A digital crown allows the wearer to dial in the level of immersion and the Vision Pro will automatically show real life surroundings when a real-life human walks into the room after detecting their presence. Note to VisionOS third party developers: If we could add other automatic triggers, such as an oven timer going off, package being delivered, or a baby waking up, that would make this feature even better.
Large Form Factor
There are two big problems to solve to enable larger adoption of AR/VR experiences. The first is the hardware size. Apple has made a very attractive, comfortable looking AR/VR device, but it is still a clunky piece of hardware with a wire sticking out of the back of it. I’ve had some metaverse “true believers” tell me this is not a problem or that it’s a generational thing, but they are kidding themselves. It’s a problem that researchers and product developers have been trying to solve for over at least five years, with a variety of designs, including AR enabled contact lenses! The Lenslet VR proposal referenced in the following illustration summed it up in 2021: “According to a survey of VR experts the biggest hindrance in current VR is the discomfort due to heavy and bulky headset-type hardware rather than high price or insufficient content. However, ironically, it is the empty space that currently takes up most of the volume in commercial VR devices. This space is required by the optical design using a single floating lens for each eye. This primitive optical design has been used without drastic changes since the early days of VR.”
Lenslet VR: Thin, Flat and Wide-FOV Virtual Reality Display Using Fresnel Lens and Lenslet Array: 2021 - https://www.computer.org/csdl/journal/tg/2021/05/09384477
Smaller Devices will Increase Adoption
As a comparison, how much more is video a part of our everyday life compared to when Dad had to lug around the Panasonic VHS Camcorder to capture memories at Knott’s Berry Farm? Using that device took you out of the moment, standing at a distance with a big piece of hardware on your shoulder. As camcorder became smaller, more videos were generated. For a while, image quality became secondary to the convenience of size, but it quickly caught up. Now that video is embedded in a device we want to own anyway, it is ubiquitous. Can AR/VR ever become that ubiquitous? A 2019 survey by Perkins Coie on showed that the majority of respondents believed that “By the year 2025, immersive technologies of XR—including augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality—will be as ubiquitous as mobile devices.” https://www.perkinscoie.com/images/content/2/1/v2/218679/2019-VR-AR-Survey-Digital-v1.pdf.
Who Will Use it, and How Much?
The issue with the Perkins Coie survey is that it is a survey of “startup founders, executives with established technology companies, investors and consultants.” This is not representative of everyday people. The second big problem is the practical use of AR/VR in both lifestyle and workplace applications. I will assume that research and nanotechnology will solve the size issue so that at some point we will have AR/VR devices as practical to wear as Ray-Ban Stories (Sunglasses with a smart camera). I was expecting as much from Apple, and thought that it might have been powered by a new iPhone to compensate for the smaller size. Let’s assume that by 2025, the size problem is solved. I can now pull out my AR/VR glasses from my shirt pocket, put them on, and they start to work. Who am I, and what am I using them for?
Camera: Google Glass got a lot of grief for folks using the camera in public spaces, but since that time, smartphone-based recording has become the norm in our society. The more that you can continue to do what you are already doing while capturing a memory of your vacation, your child on a swing, a celebration, the more convenience you have added to your lives. That being said, camera eyeglasses are available at many price points, so maybe the smart phone is just the right amount of convenience (second device vs. a device we already want to own).
Media and Social Media Viewing: It is very likely that users would adopt the device for both movies and social media, seeing how immersed in the experience many users are when viewing on smart phones. Perhaps this is where the camera becomes worthwhile again. Apple’s Vision Pro spatial camera allows you to film in both external and AR/VR spaces. The current size creates a barrier to the vanities of the Instagram/TikTok crowd, but a more elegant wearable might make this an ideal application for shared content and shared viewing.
Work Applications: There are already many good work cases for AR and VR including training simulations, warehouse inventory locating and even assisted surgeries. The next question is; what could a smaller device make more convenient than a tablet or smartphone? If a device was small enough to not be a distraction, would a presenter have his notes scrolled on AR glasses? Is it more convenient to check emails and messages from a pair of glasses than a smart phone? The video conferencing capabilities of the Vision Pro are compelling, creating an accurate replication of each participant’s faces and eye movements. This would absolutely be better than the smartphone video conference experience which often looks like “found footage” from the The Blair Witch Project.
The most compelling applications for the Apple Vision Pro are based on well-designed fully integrated hardware. Most likely that level of functionality is way too much to accomplish in a smaller form factor any time soon. Kudos to Apple for doing what they do best; being best in market instead of first to market. It is a great device, but it is not the “Game Changer” that the iPhone has turned out to be.