On Monday, Apple got a glimpse of what it envisions for the future of computing. For nearly half an hour I wore the $3,500 Vision Pro, the company’s first high-tech viewfinder due out next year.
I left with mixed feelings, and a lingering sense of doubt.
On the one hand, I’m impressed by the quality of the audience Apple promotes as ushering in an era of „spatial computing” where digital data mixes with the physical world to unlock new capabilities. For example, imagine using a viewer to assemble a piece of furniture, with instructions digitally displayed on the piece, or cooking a meal while the recipe unfolds in the corner of your eye.
Apple’s device features high-resolution video, intuitive controls, and a comfortable fit—in fact, it felt better than my experiences with headsets designed by Meta, Magic Leap, and others over the past decade. Sony and many others.
However, using the new viewer to view photos and interact with the virtual dinosaur, I felt it didn’t offer much new. The experience gave me a „yuck” factor that I had never experienced before with an Apple product. I will comment on this later.
Adjustment and control
Let’s start at the beginning. After Apple unveiled the viewfinder on Monday, its first major release since the Apple Watch in 2015, I was allowed to try out a pre-production sample of the Vision Pro. Apple employees took me to a private room at Apple headquarters. company in Silicon Valley and sat in a chair for a demo.
Resembling a pair of ski goggles, the Vision Pro has a white USB cable that plugs into a silver battery pack that I slip into my pants pocket. To use it, I turned a knob on the side of the visor and secured a Velcro strap over my head to customize it to my face.
I pressed a metal button located on the front of the device to turn it on. I completed the setup process, which included looking at the moving dot so the viewfinder would track my eye movements. Vision Pro has a set of sensors to track eye movements, hand movements and voice commands, which are the primary control methods. Viewing an icon is equivalent to hovering over it with your mouse; To press a button, you need to bring your thumb and index finger together in a quick pinch, similar to clicking a mouse.
That gesture is used to capture and scroll through apps on the screen. It’s more intuitive and less fiddly than using the motion controllers that often come with competing devices.
However, I had many questions. What other hand gestures will the viewer recognize for playing? If Siri’s voice transcription doesn’t currently work well on phones, how efficient will voice controls be? Apple doesn’t yet know what other gestures will be supported, and it won’t let us test voice controls.
It’s time for app demos that show how viewers can enrich our daily lives and help us stay connected to each other.
First they showed me how to view photos and video of the birthday celebration in the audience. I could see the real world, including Apple employees around me, but turning it counterclockwise made the photo more opaque, and I was able to turn a dial counterclockwise on the front of the Vision Pro. Immerse yourself in it.
Apple had me open a meditation app in the viewfinder that displayed 3D animations while the music played soothingly and a voice guided my breathing. However, meditation did not prepare me for what was to come: a video call.
A small window appeared, announcing a Facetime call from an Apple employee using a headset. I stared at the answer button and crossed my fingers to pick up the call.
The employee who called me used a „personality” that generated a scan of the visitor’s face. Apple believes that video conferencing through these „personas” is a more intimate way for people to communicate and collaborate in a virtual space.
The Apple employee’s facial expressions looked lifelike, and her mouth movements corresponded to what she was saying. However, I could tell he was fake because of the digital rendering of his avatar, the smooth texture of his face and the lack of shadows. It reminded me of the video holograms I’ve seen in sci-fi movies like this one Minority Report: The previous sentence.
In a FaceTime session, an Apple employee and I had to collaborate to create a 3D model in an app called Freeform. But I stared at her blankly, wondering what I was seeing. After three years of isolation during the pandemic, Apple wanted to connect him with an immersive video of a real person. I could feel how my body refused to participate. „The hostile valley” (or „The Uncanny Valley” in English), an uneasy feeling when watching a man create a machine that seems so human.
A technical feat? Yes. A feature you want to use with others every day? In the short term, probably not.
To end the session on a fun note, Apple showed a dinosaur coming towards me when I reached out. I’ve seen more than one digital dinosaur in virtual reality (every headset manufacturer that’s demonstrated it to me in the past seven years has used a simulation. Jurassic Park), that didn’t excite me.
After the demo, I drove home and processed the experience as I navigated through rush hour traffic.
After dinner, I talked to my wife about Vision Pro. That said, Apple’s viewfinder looks and feels better than the competition. However, he wasn’t sure if it mattered.
Other Sony PlayStation and Meta headsets were cheaper and more powerful and entertaining, especially for playing video games. However, when we had guests over for dinner, and and within half an hour after they tried the headset, they lost interest because the experience was exhausting and they felt socially disconnected from the group.
Is it okay to turn the dial on to see the real world while using the viewfinder? I suspect they would feel even more isolated because they might be the only ones in the room wearing a mask.
However, the idea of connecting with others, including family and co-workers, through Apple Watch is more important to me.
I told my wife, “Your mother is old. When you FaceTime her, do you see her ultrafake digital avatar or a low-quality video call where she holds the phone camera in front of her face at an inappropriate angle?
„Recently,” he replied without hesitation. „It’s true. I’d like to see it in person, though.
Brian X. Chen is a consumer technology columnist. He reviews products and writes Tech Fix, a column to address technology-related issues. Before joining The Times in 2011, he reported on the wireless industry for Apple and Wired. @bxchen