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Apple's Vision

7 June, 2023

Yesterday at WWDC 2023 Keynote, Apple unveiled its first "spatial computing" device "Vision Pro". I had never heard of this term before, but apparently it's been defined (since 2003) by Simon Greenwold as "human interaction with a machine in which the machine retains and manipulates referents to real objects and spaces".

There's not a lot to say about the technical details yet. I think the most intriguing aspects for me are the catadioptric lenses and the R1 chip and how it processes the camera/sensor feed in real-time. The foveated rendering, and how they've handled gaze and hand gesture tracking in the OS.

A few thoughts came to my mind while watching the announcement.

Firstly, it looks like a snorkeling mask! Jokes aside though, the technical aspects that make it all work together are very interesting for sure, and the device is seductive and obviously manufactured with high quality material and attention to detail.

At this point most people know that Apple does some of the most impressive marketing in the world. With that being said, the last couple of WWDC keynotes gave me a weird ominous creepy feeling with all the fake smiling and the excessive amount of happiness some people have for "stickers in Messages" and the formulaic talking points they use.

Secondly, I don't think this is a productivity device as they're selling it as, at least not in its current form. As someone commented on HN, the number of displays one has on their real desk and their size is usually not a major factor of productivity for most people, it's their neck movement and the pain it entails.

If you have to twist your body around while sitting behind a desk (assuming you're typing) you're probably not going to want to move your neck a lot, so it's probably just easier to do it without having any extra weight on your head (actually we don't know the weight yet). I think this will be a consumption device first and foremost. To watch movies, play games, or do those weird meditation/sleeping rituals.

I doubt that anyone who's not a millionaire would be willing to fork $3500 for a toy, but people keep buying the latest iPhones while complaining they can't afford to save for buying a house, so I'm not sure what will happen.

Thirdly, people are slowly but surely gaining more awareness about the unintentional effects of various tech gadgets on our lives. I can't imagine why an average person who thinks of themselves as "mindful" of their tech usage would be interested in this.

Many design aspects of Vision Pro cater to the idea of being "more present" with others (from the fake eyes on the outward front display, to Share Play in visionOS, but if someone wants to maintain presence with others, why not just take it off when they're talking to them? If your goal is to watch a movie with others, why not meet up IRL?

Maybe the "cool factor" is gripping. But surely not at this price? Even if they fix the battery and the price in the next couple of versions, I think it'll be hard to convince people to act like it's normal to sit and talk with someone wearing a diving mask in their living room, with 12 different cameras vaguely pointing in their direction, right? Most would feel weirded out with just one camera pointing in their direction.

There are many questions that will be answered in time, like what will happen if that magnetic battery cable gets unplugged unintentionally? Will the whole device turn off? Will they sell bigger batteries or a "wall-plug" option? How will the tracking work in various light conditions? Will Apple make a smaller AR-only option that's actually more like glasses rather than some high-tech gas mask?

I don't know how this will go, it's interesting to witness it though. Many people are glued to their phone and it's difficult to find anyone walking around without earbuds, it's hard to imagine that there was a time when people didn't do that, how did this transformation even happen? It feels like this could be a good opportunity to see how that transformation takes place in real-time.

If this vision of Apple fails, then it fails, as I would expect honestly, unless they manage to sell it to the military somehow.

If it succeeds and becomes a lucrative market, we'll probably see a Google version (sort of Daydream 2.0) and developers will rush to make apps and money. Meta will "pivot" and also make an AR thing. Will most people own one of these in 2035? Will it be normal to have 4 or 5 people sitting around a living room jacked up to Apple's Vision just like how it's (almost) normal now to do the same with phones. That sounds like a lonely and sad future, but at least we would've had an opportunity to witness how this transformation took place.