Apple has presented one of the most-awaited secrets in recent technology: its augmented reality glasses, the Vision Pro. They will be sold in the US in 2024 and in “other countries” the following year for a price of $3,500. It is expensive, but Apple boasts of having created an impeccable product with more than “5,000 new patents” that took years to develop. This week, a handful of engineers and designers were finally free to show off the secret object that they have been creating.
Overwhelming day today. Worked on this project for most of my Apple career, contributing to core interactions, productivity, and bringing SwiftUI into space. Extremely difficult problems, humbling. Thousands involved. Congrats to the whole team for bringing this to fruition. pic.twitter.com/jul6kQY1t5— Sam Iglesias (@siglesias) June 5, 2023
There are more questions than answers. A handful of journalists and tech influencers who attended the launch event have tried out the gadget, without recording it. Apple calls it the new platform of “spatial computing,” after the personal (the Mac) and mobile (iPhone). These are some of the questions that the new apparatus brings up.
The photos that weren’t taken
Tim Cook, Apple’s executive president, started the Vision Pro presentation, which lasted 40 minutes. He then took photos next to the glasses, but he did not put them on, nor did any of the other Apple executives who spoke. Why? Perhaps to avoid memes. No photos were taken of anyone wearing the device on the street. Everyone was in closed spaces with little movement. No photos were shown of anyone doing physical exercise, which is one of the major features of the Meta glasses. Apple is famous for releasing products and waiting to see where its users and developers take it.
The words that weren’t said
It was already expected that the word “metaverse” would not be uttered in the whole presentation. But what other expression was missing? “Virtual reality.” The glasses are designed for users to get involved in the world, not to leave it, though they will have an option for watching 3D movies and playing video games. Meta can breathe easily after finding that the Vision Pro is created for a different type of use, though they seem clearly better. Meta’s Quest Pro glasses were released on the market for $1,500.
The big hit
In the articles and videos of people who have tried them, two things stand out above all: the tracking of the eye and the hand, and the definition of the images. The glasses don’t come with built-in controls, instead detecting where you look and click with your fingers. That click is done by joining the index and thumb: will that gesture become a meme? To write, you can click on virtual keyboards or just speak.
A general problem with augmented reality glasses was the low visual quality of both the outside world and the generated images. Apple seems to have figured it out. Other models made it hard to read text in a browser due to the low resolution, but the Vision Pro boasts that it makes it possible.
The chilling appearance
The surface of the glasses is opaque. To see the environment from the inside, cameras look out and reproduce the content on the screen. According to those who have tried it, it looks good, although it is still a video; it is not reality.
imagine paying $3500 plus tax to look like this when someone walks in the room to have a serious conversation with you pic.twitter.com/eFclrVY74X— Casey Johnston (@caseyjohnston) June 5, 2023
The new problem arises from the opposite perspective: the glasses-wearers as seen from outside. The apparatus projects the eyes on the surface of the glasses and imitates their movement. It causes a pop-eyed effect, like the Minions. If the wearer of the glasses is watching a movie, their eyes cannot be seen from the outside, but when there is interaction with the outside world, their eyes pop out.
Discomfort and motion sickness
A big problem with VR headsets until now has been discomfort and motion sickness. Apple seems to have solved the issue of motion sickness. The feeling of restlessness was caused by latency: the computing in the glasses does not go fast enough, and the temporary microdifference between what we expect to see and what we see causes dizziness. That latency has been greatly reduced in the Vision Pro, according to those who have tried it.
it's *so hard* to get people to wear technology, particularly on their faces, if it doesn't confer an immediate benefit (ie glasses). companies have tried & failed for years to popularize headsets. it'll be fascinating to see how this plays out for apple.https://t.co/bIqbIIIhQD— Rachel Metz (@rachelmetz) June 5, 2023
But it is still a heavy piece of junk, which can be worn with a headband to make it more manageable. The glasses are made of metal and glass, not plastic, which is coarser but weighs less. Who would want to work for several hours with some kind of motorcycle helmet on their head?
POV: you just had a long day at work in 2035 pic.twitter.com/zeXY0BKvBE— gaut (@0xgaut) June 5, 2023
Will it convince the public?
Only time will tell how many people will find these glasses are essential in their lives. Because of the price alone, that figure will inevitably be small at first. But will the feeling that “you have to have them” spread over the years, as it did with the iPod, iPhone or iPad?
The price will inevitably fall, perhaps along with the size and weight. Apple will also improve the battery life, which is now only two hours. But it remains to be seen if socially we will evolve to appreciate having huge screens to work on, being at home recording our children’s birthdays in 3D and even if we want to take walks with them. The idea is that it is a computer that we can take on a trip, for example, without needing anything else. That is one of the best options for the future: how will we end up using those glasses, if we end up using them?
google glass, circa 2013: failed miserably because people looked dumb wearing it— Tyler Glaiel (@TylerGlaiel) June 5, 2023
companies in 2023: people will wear this pic.twitter.com/8JDJIa65XU
A sadly individual experience
Maybe society will change. But Google Glass was smaller, and it failed because nobody wanted to be around someone who could be recording at any moment. These glasses do the same. In the presentation, a father appears recording his daughters with their glasses on. The mobile does something like that, but it separates; it does not isolate.
Logically, they are glasses for individual experiences. It is sad to see in the presentation a father remembering moments with his children, to “relive” them, as if he could no longer do so in real life. The movies are very beautiful, but you can’t share with anyone that you’re watching them. Will we have to have three glasses at home and press play all at the same time?
It feels a bit like it's designed for people with no friends and who live alone and who perhaps are not really allowed to see the kids any more. pic.twitter.com/BeTAClmb0w— Tom Goodwin (@tomfgoodwin) June 5, 2023
To counter this, Apple introduced FaceTime, the video calling app, as one of the major apps for its glasses. It also solved the big question about how others see you if you wear the glasses: they see a digital reproduction of you that moves according to the facial expressions that the cameras detect. It’s not an ugly avatar like the one in the metaverse, but it’s not your own face either. And does that improve on the FaceTime experience in front of the mobile or the computer, besides not having anything in your hands and being able to move?
What about privacy?
Apple bragged about its privacy protection, as always. That has been one of its strengths with the iPhone, and it helps the company to distance itself from Meta, which lives on advertising. Nothing you record will leave the device, they assured. But to use it, the personal identification will be the iris of each user, which seemed the last frontier of individuality. There’s a company called Worldcoin, co-founded by Sam Altman, that claims to collect the irises of all of humanity in order to identify us all. It’s presumably a bad idea, but what if Apple does so with its glasses? It won’t seem like such a big problem anymore.
Be that as it may, this is the initial version of a revolutionary product made by a company that has at least earned the benefit of the doubt. Will we write articles like this with glasses and generative artificial intelligence in 2030? Things will at least have changed since the 80s and 90s, when parents famously told us not to get so close to the TV. We ended up wearing one over our eyes.
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