Noor one Shows from a new gadget just like Apple. But the device that Tim Cook unveiled on June 5 was heralded as something more significant. The Vision Pro, a sleek pair of glass goggles, represents an entirely new spatial computing platform, the Apple boss said, comparing its launch to that of the Macintosh and iPhone. Apple’s message is clear: after desktop and mobile computing, the next big technology era will be spatial computing, also known as augmented reality, in which computer graphics are superimposed on the world around the user.
The presentation was both stunning and strangely disappointing. The Vision is filled with innovations that eclipse every other headset on the market. Clumsy joysticks are out, hand gestures and eyeball tracking are in. Instead of legless avatars, users get photorealistic likenesses, whose eyes also appear outside the glasses to make them less antisocial. The product is dusted with the magic of Apple’s intuitive design.
Yet the company had strangely uninspiring suggestions for what to do with its miracle device. See your photos but bigger! Use Microsoft Teamsma on a virtual screen! Make FaceTime video calls but with your friends window in space, not the palm of your hand! Seeing apples seemed to mostly involve taking 2d app and project them onto virtual screens (charging $3,499 for the privilege). Is that so?
Patience. Mr Cook is right that space computing is a new platform, but he will take some time to get to grips with it. He considers the launch of the iPhone 16 years ago. Like the Vision, its technology shone, but its boring initial uses were inherited from previous platforms: making calls, writing emails, surfing the web, listening to music. It took years for developers to find the killer use cases for mobile computing: group chats, ride-hailing, short videos, casual gaming, mobile payments, and all the other things that get people today to spend $1,000 or more on an iPhone (whose launch price of $499 in 2007 was considered shocking).
Other platforms have taken just as long to reach their potential. Television producers began by filming people appearing on stage. The pioneers of the internet started by sharing files, before they took to the web and much more. Apple’s smartwatch was a dank squib until consumers decided it was a health and fitness device. It now sells 50 million watches a year.
No one knows yet what the use case for the spatial computation killer might be, or if it has one, although it seems likely. It could be commercial (surgeons, engineers and architects have dabbled in technology) or educational (Apple previewed a planetarium in its demo) or entertainment (Disney made a cameo with ideas for immersive cinema and sports coverage). Vision Pros could even become high-end porn glasses, if Apple relaxes the ban on such things. AI will allow programmers to create eerily realistic content in all of these categories and many more.
The way to speed up this process is to put the hardware in the hands of the developers and this is the very purpose of the Vision. Apple won’t sell many of the expensive first-generation units and doesn’t care. Its purpose is to bring the product to people who will understand what spatial computation can do. It is extraordinarily well located. Meta, its main rival in the headphone game, has no ties to Apple with developers, who like to build software for Apple’s best hardware (and its wealthiest consumers).
The flawed but extraordinary vision shows that the technological struggle to make spatial computing a reality has been won. The next race is to find out what it’s for. Apple just fired the starting gun.
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