ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ Herman's blog

The Apple Vision Pro and the future of workspaces

Around the beginning of 2022, my girlfriend and I were taking a hike overlooking Camps Bay. And while the vistas were gorgeous, I was waving my arms about and describing the future of virtual reality. Having worked as a game developer in the VR space for several years (back during the early days of the Oculus) I was sufficiently jaded with VR gaming.

During my arm-wavy rant I described not the uses of headsets for gaming, but instead their utility as workspaces. Having worked remotely for the past 8-ish years, I was intimately aware with the value of having a consistent (and preferably pleasant) workspace. I’d switched co-working spaces a few times, regulared at various cafes, yet was missing "the space”. The place where “the zone” is always within my grasp.

This was the picture I was painting:

Imagine being at the top of an isolated mountain with clouds gently melting into the valley beneath you, your multiple screens laid out in front of you, adjusted to your ideal workflow. Picture working from low-earth orbit, your screens surrounded by a subtle sci-fi backlight.

At the time VR headsets were, well...shit. The idea of spending more than a pixelated half-hour in one was enough to turn me off the idea. But the concept of being able to “step into my office” no matter where I was, was tantalising. I currently have a comfortable home-office setup, but I know that a lot of people, especially those in expensive cities, are more space-constrained and would appreciate walking into the broom closet, putting on a headset, and surveying their vast work domain, regardless of the physical square-footage.

Now that my vision of the future of work is out of the way, on to the Apple Vision Pro.

I'll admit, I’m a bit of a slut for Apple. I used to be a Linux hacker-boy, but outgrew having to wrestle drivers and compatibility issues and fell easily into the waiting arms of this aluminium walled garden. During my mountain rant I made the prediction that Apple was going to make the first headset explicitly for work. At the time they were building out ARkit and had even acquired a company which made tiny, hi-res screens. But I was dubious. Creating comfortable VR is extraordinarily difficult.

And I think they may have nailed it…kinda.

From the reviews, one thing is apparent: the visual fidelity is incredible and the headset is comfortable. These were my two biggest worries and it seems like they have been addressed. Being able to wear a headset for a multi-hour work session without eyestrain and a headache are (in my opinion) the biggest barriers to adoption. Naturally, the first iteration of this product will have limited utility, especially for developers, since the toolset will take a while to build out. But once I can do my work in a headset, I have a hard time imagining going back to small rectangles of productivity.

A few people have mentioned that the 2-hour battery life is a deal-breaker, but I’m rarely out of reach of a plug point. So, assuming the included cable has some length to it, I don’t believe this will be much of an issue. Even modern international flights have plug points nowadays.

The hand and eye-tracking are also reported to work like magic, and I am keen to try this for myself before I make any definitive statements.

Apple was very deliberate with their wording during the announcement. They don’t use the term VR or AR to describe this headset. It is a “spacial computer”. This may sounds like Apple being a bit pretentious, but it is actually a very succinct description of what this headset is meant for. It isn’t for a purely virtual experience like gaming. On the flip side it isn’t for wearing on the subway a-la Google Glass. It’s just a computer that better utilises our perception of space.

At home I have a 32” curved, ultra-wide display for work. After spending most of my professional life on a 13” laptop, this seemingly boundless space was freeing in ways that I can’t properly describe. It was like working in a cubicle then upgrading to the corner office. It was de-claustrifying. My hope is that these headsets will do the same, but to an even greater degree. I’m currently on a semi-work-vacation and am back on my tiny screen. It’s been a difficult re-transition…

I do, however, have some opinions about Apple’s choices regarding the Vision Pro. Note that these are based on my personal use-cases.

Naturally the largest gripe is with the price. It’s wildly expensive at $3500, yet if it can (in the future) function as a complete workstation, then it may be worth it for some. Assuming you have that kind of money to burn, that’s the same price as a high-end MacBook Pro and a few grand less than their Pro Display XDR.

The front screen, with the “eye projection” when passthrough is active, is uncharacteristically gimmicky for Apple. They are pretty good at creating well-designed products centred around utility, and this feels like a novelty since the usefulness is negligible. But at a cost. It’s an uncanny rendering of someone's face, and adding a whole extra screen to the front for this feels like a waste of money, a drain of the already limited battery life, and additional weight on the neck. This could have been replaced with an LED that signals “passthrough is active”.

This next opinion may be controversial, but I think that AR is also a gimmick. Until there is a device which can be worn away from home, having an overlay on reality is just trying to capture the “cool factor” while adding complexity to the product and introducing usability issues. A good example of this was when Pokemon Go briefly moved the entire population of Earth into your local park. All players who spent a decent amount of time catching Pokemon ended up turning off the AR mode since it was buggy (getting this kind of thing perfect is nearly impossible) while not adding to the experience outside of the “cool factor”.

I think Apple could have delayed releasing the AR mode and instead just focussed on creating a perfect spacial computer. Some passthrough is necessary for things like using a keyboard or taking a sip of your coffee, but full environmental parsing isn’t necessary. Add that later once the core features are brilliant (the iPhone did this well). It would reduce alopecia among their developers, be less buggy, and save money on outward facing cameras.

And finally, in the official announcement, there’s the clip of a father taking pictures of his kids with the headset on and…well…I don’t even need to explain why this is pretty cringe-worthy.

There are a few other uses advertised that I’m very dubious about. One of them being the 3D rendering of your face for video calls, but I’ll reserve judgement of these until I’ve tried them out.

In a nutshell, I think this is headed in the right direction. I won’t be buying the first version as I'd prefer to not pay $3500 to beta test this badboy, but I do see myself crafting the perfect virtual office in the future. I’m thinking of slowly drifting through the Horse Head nebula and with my screens floating around me like the 7 Dragon Balls.


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