In Tim Cook's 12 years at the head of Apple, there was no shortage of news, but the VisionPro viewer was the first hardware product conceived, born and developed entirely under his supervision. It comes after seven years of development and boasts state-of-the-art technology, a original design, an ad hoc operating system; even before being presented it has already had the attention of the media and the interest of fans. It lacks an ecosystem, and for this reason it was presented at WWDC, the annual developer conference: Apple needs their apps, their ideas and their intuitions to be able to succeed where others have failed. “Vision Pro is a revolutionary product, which only Apple could makean all-new platform that presents incredible opportunities for users and developers,” said Tim Cook at the end of the keynote.
The headset for mixed reality and other Apple news told live from Cupertino
by our correspondent Bruno Ruffilli
Virtual, mixed and augmented reality
Augmented reality is a technology that allows you to superimpose digital information on the physical world. It has existed for some time: in Apple Maps (but also in Google Maps), for example, you frame the road with the camera and the navigator indications appear on the display as if they were written directly on the asphalt. Various applications are available on the App Stores to try on furniture or clothes, and many games, among which the most famous is certainly Pokémon Go, which was the first to bring augmented reality to the attention of the general public.
Vision Pro, however, adopts a different technology, called mixed reality: with a button similar to the digital crown of the Apple Watch it is able to switch from augmented to virtual reality. And so it becomes a hi tech version of the viewer of the PlayStation or Meta's Quest: the outside world is cut off, we move in an immersive and isolated reality, what we are used to calling metaverse. The transition is immediate and visible from the outside: from transparent, the viewer becomes opaque, lights up with colored animations or shows what the user is seeing. But as long as someone speaks to us for it to become transparent again, to allow us to interact in a natural way, only to then immerse ourselves again in virtual reality. In reality "transparent" is an approximation: what you see on the outside, in fact, is a high resolution digital representation of the real eyes of those who are using Vision Pro.
So it is inevitable that the list of contraindications is long: it ranges from dizziness to migraines, from post traumatic brain injury to pregnancy. In practical use it is possible to wear the Apple viewer for longer than its competitors, due to the better ergonomics and the limited weight. But the autonomy limited to two hours is a false problem, because you will most likely get tired sooner.
As on other occasions, the Cupertino company does not arrive first, even if some technological solutions are truly record-breaking, for a total of 5,000 patents. For example, the resolution of the two small displays or the 12 cameras to film the outside world and hand movements (there are no controllers, unlike the Meta viewers): an enormous amount of data, managed by Apple's M2 processors already seen on the latest Mac and a new chip, called R1. Then there is the iris scan (Optic ID) to protect the data and recognize the user, but the cellular connection is missing: for now, Vision Pro can be used essentially in closed or controlled environments, such as the home, the office , the gym. Finally, the design is somewhat reminiscent of ski goggles and takes up some elements from the AirPods Max headphones; the front is in curved glass, the body in aluminium. The large back band is in fabric and can be changed; And available in different shapes and sizes, to best fit the head. For those who need glasses, it is possible to install magnetic lenses. The spatial audio is reproduced by two small speakers inserted in the side bands, which leave the ear free to hear what is happening outside. Too bad only for the external battery, which must be worn around the waist and is connected to the viewer with a cable.
What can you do
But if you can have augmented reality on a smartphone, why use glasses, which are much more invasive? This is the question that Vision Pro will have to answer. Apple has developed dedicated apps for the device, and Safari, Photos, Messages, Maps, Apple Music and other programs will be optimized for Vision Pro. FaceTime will support one-on-one chats with lifelike avatars featuring the user's face and body, while group chats will use Memoji. There's an app for fitness and one for meditation, and there's no shortage of Apple TV+.
According to Apple, it won't be difficult to port apps and games for iPhone and iPad to the visionOS software platform, and interaction won't be a problem: in the absence of a mouse or touch screen, the eyes will act as a pointer. To select an app or object, just look at it, and a sophisticated tracking system records eye movements; then you interact with gestures. The headset also acts as an external monitor for a Mac; to write you can use the computer keyboard, visible through the display, or the virtual one. It will be more interesting to understand how to browse the dedicated App Store, install applications, register; and in general how applications will change in light of the new ways of interacting.
It is the first time that Apple has launched a new product category starting with the suffix Pro: usually uses it for advanced versions of already existing templates. It is easy to imagine that at least one normal version will soon arrive, then perhaps other cheaper ones: according to rumors, Cupertino is already working on two other models of the viewer. Meanwhile, as the name suggests, the Vision Pro is not a product for the general public: neither in terms of design, nor functionality, nor the price ($3500). It will only be available next year, and sales forecasts are very cautious, we are talking about one million against the 235 million iPhones sold in 2022. In short, for Cupertino, it is little more than a test, and it will only be possible in a few years whether it will succeed or not.
Today big and small names in the world of technology are engaged in race for generative artificial intelligence, on the model of ChatGPT, the first application of its kind that became really popular. In Cupertino there hasn't been talk about it, even if they are certainly working on it, and there hasn't even been talk about the metaverse. Several have already bet on the idea of alternative digital realities, from Google to Microsoft, but if today the sector shows any signs of interest it is only thanks to Sony and Meta: video games in virtual reality are however few and not exciting, while efforts of Zuckerberg to build his metaverse so far they have not given great results. The situation could change with the arrival of Apple, and in fact Menlo Park hastened to announce the new generation of their Oculus VR viewer, which also offers some augmented reality functions.
A road to the future
The first iPod was only compatible with Mac, at launch the iPhone didn't have the app store, the iPad was heavy and uncomfortable, the Apple Watch was thought of as a luxury gadget. These devices have entered the daily life of billions of people thanks to a long work articulated on several fronts: a constant improvement in technology, design, usability; Apple's proven marketing prowess; the boost of ecosystems.
The same will happen with Vision Pro, and then today's date could really mark a new era in the history of information technology and a new chapter for Apple, which finally proves capable of looking beyond the iPhone. Why Apple Watch and AirPods remain accessories, however popular and profitable, while the viewer does not need any other devices to work. And so Vision Pro seems to re-propose a strategy that Apple has already adopted on other occasions: sacrificing a successful product even before the decline phase begins. Steve Jobs explained it at the presentation of the iPhone in 2007: “You have to skate to where the puck is going to go, not where it has already been,” Wayne Gretzky quoted, a very popular ice hockey player. “At Apple, we've always tried to do this, right from the start. And we always will."