For a product that won’t be released until 2024, Apple has been talking a lot about the Vision Pro, its mixed reality headset. Apple spent almost an hour on the WWDC keynote discussing this. The company has released developer tools for visionOS, giving us even more clarity on what visionOS can and cannot do.
And yet, I remain firmly convinced that Apple has not told us the whole story. The WWDC keynote was the time to make a first impression, but there are still six months left before the final story is told. As a result, Apple highlighted the features of the device that it felt best represented the device. It highlighted the fact that it’s an augmented reality product that allows you to stay connected to the people around you, to muffle criticism of Apple trying to use its technology to keep people apart.
With Vision Pro, that’s not all. This is where I think Apple will have a much bigger story to tell.
Yes, this is indeed a VR helmet.
By default displaying the world around you and requiring the user to dial in reality through the Digital Crown, Apple is sending the signal that the Vision Pro is an augmented reality headset. But the truth is that this is a VR headset that emulates AR, and that emulation can be easily abandoned. If you don’t want to work in the very spacious rooms shown in Apple’s demo video, you can work in a virtual reality environment just as easily.
But even more than that, app developers can create whole VR experiences in their apps. While Apple will strongly encourage apps to run in augmented reality – and if you want to walk around objects, it’s a must – it won’t stop the possibilities of apps that make what we consider “traditional” VR experiences.
In other words, Apple hasn’t talked about VR gaming, the most popular category of software in existing VR hardware, but VR gaming is sure to be part of the Vision Pro experience. No, we don’t know how good Apple’s hand and eye tracking technology will be when it comes to the needs of various VR games. But we will definitely find out.
Yes, there will be fitness apps
Apple hasn’t announced an integration of the Vision Pro with its Fitness+ service, which, I’ll admit, was a bit of a surprise. On the Meta headsets, apps like Supernatural and Beat Saber have gained huge followings as ways to spice up the routine of regular workouts.
I can’t say if Fitness+ will be in the Vision Pro at launch — Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman suggests it won’t be — but if Apple doesn’t fill the gap, someone else will. Experienced app developers will try to be the next Beat Saber. And no matter how heavy or uncomfortable the Vision Pro may be, no matter how much sweat the Vision Pro’s 3D knitted headband can absorb, people will try to use VR for workouts. It will happen.
Yes, there will be memoji
Apple wanted to impress everyone with Digital Persona, a replica of your face created from a meticulous initial scan that is animated by Vision Pro sensors looking at your eyes, face, and body gestures. I found them creepy, and I was definitely not the only one who used Vision Pro at WWDC and thought so.
I’m pretty sure Apple never intended Digital Persona to be the only option for users who need a proxy to interact with other people while wearing the Vision Pro. Apple was proud of this technology, so it showcased it as a way to show off, as well as a way to explain how the EyeSight feature was created.
But this may not be the only option. To begin with, not everyone will feel comfortable using a representation of themselves as they are, if they can help it. There’s a good reason why Apple’s Memoji creation interface lets you choose from a wide range of characteristics, including many that don’t even exist in humans! Or you can become an animated emoji character.
And indeed, to be honest, it’s highly likely that the entire Memoji project was an early step towards avatars for Vision Pro. Do we really think that Apple will push for a digital persona for everyone, even if they prefer to be just an elephant? Will not happen.
Yes, Siri will be enabled
In Apple’s Vision Pro movie, the user at one point reads a website address by voice. This is practically the only example of Apple’s voice assistant that is shown with a headset. But it’s almost impossible to imagine that voice control won’t be a major part of the device’s interface.
When I was using Vision Pro, there were many moments when I realized that instead of manipulating the virtual interface with gestures, I would probably be better off just issuing a voice command. But Siri wasn’t active on our demo headsets, probably because it wasn’t good enough, and because if Apple too much a lot, it would make the rest of the Vision Pro interface work the company has done a little less special.
Using voice control for all those people in private settings, sprawled out on sofas or sitting on chairs, can also add to the anti-social nature of these devices – if you’re comfortable constantly interfering with Siri, that means no one else is within earshot. — and that’s not the impression Apple wants to make right now.
But visionOS just can’t be a platform that isn’t closely tied to voice commands. It just makes too much sense.
Yes, your other Apple devices will play a role.
The Vision Pro appears to be similar to the iPad and iPhone, being able to run iOS apps without any connection to those devices. However, we didn’t see any direct integration between Apple’s most popular product and the Vision Pro.
It might not be there on the first day, but I find it hard to believe that the iPhone won’t work closely with the Vision Pro. With macOS Sonoma, Apple is introducing the concept of iPhone widgets that project directly onto your Mac’s desktop. Why not extend this to Vision Pro? How about launching apps on your iPhone and viewing them right in Vision Pro? Maybe even more than one?
Sure, you can look down and use your iPhone while using the Vision Pro, but that will always be a pretty limited experience. I have to think Apple is hard at work finding better ways to use Continuity features to connect all of their devices to the Vision Pro, but especially to the iPhone.
Vision Pro is not coming soon. We’ve heard Apple’s opening speech about the sale, but the company is still a long way from closing the deal. There is more to this story than we have heard so far. Stay tuned.