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My Apple Vision Pro turned me into a bona fide Glasshole, again

courtesy of valtech

I was rooting for the Apple Vision Pro.

I am still rooting for it, and for spatial computing and wearable computers overall. But, two weeks ago, as I packed up the device in its overpriced carrying case to demo it to my colleagues at our office, I had a stark realization. Just like every other headset that came before it (be it Oculus, Meta Quest, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Google Cardboard—the list goes on), the only real repeated use case that had emerged is showing it to people who’ve never seen it before. It was a devastating realization.

I’m a futurist, not necessarily by choice, but by compulsion. I have an incurable case of severe optimism. But also, a very critical filter for hype. And four months ago, when I got my hands on the Vision Pro at launch, I believed I was glimpsing our collective future. VisionOS felt inevitable. It felt like, Of course this is how we’ll all be using computers soon.

Finally, some of the core problems that had plagued previous generations of headsets (whether virtual, augmented, or mixed reality) were solved. The Vision Pro’s resolution, frame rate, and eye-tracking were revelatory. Gone was the near-constant fear of oncoming motion sickness. Gone was the need to manually map a “safe area” to avoid breaking furniture. Gone were the awkward controllers.

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I was a vocal supporter of Apple’s freshman foray into the blended world of physical and digital. I made counterarguments against the overwhelming chorus of why? Why so expensive? Why so heavy? Why so creepy?

Yet it’s four months later, and I honestly forgot the thing existed for two whole weeks. The reality of spatial computing is there’s almost no space for it in day-to-day life.

How did we get here?

The crux of the problem is the name and market positioning of this device. In reality, the Apple Vision Pro is a cumbersome, bulky, expensive, but ultimately groundbreaking developer kit. In that context, it’s a home run. But instead, Apple’s crack team of marketers billed it as a consumer-ready Pro product (despite Steve Jobs’s warning about what happens when marketing takes over a product-led company). And so, we’re forced to judge it through that lens.

Google Glass suffered a similar fate to what I feared for Apple Vision V1. It was released with a bang, touted as the future of personal computing and promising to liberate people from the shackles of their neck-strain-causing smartphones, all while allowing die-hard futurist early adopters like me to behave more naturally among muggles. Yet, the opposite happened. Push past the horrible battery life, shockingly steep price point (about half of what the Vision Pro costs) and limited set of apps and functionality. What actually killed Google Glass was how people recoiled in disgust when they caught someone wearing it in public.

The Vision Pro is no different. The straight shunning I face wearing it is a clear indicator that society has made its choice between the headset being a glimpse of our inevitable future, or an obtuse, repulsive technological folly. At least Google Glass was physically comfortable to wear. The Vision Pro is so heavy, unbalanced, and painful that in the first week, while trying to wear it as the productivity-forward device it was supposed to be, I barely lasted 2.5 days with it on. And that’s despite the face scan they performed during the ordering process to determine which light shield is my “perfect match.”

Here’s the unfortunate truth: Other than when I’m showing the Vision Pro to people for the first time, I’ve become utterly indifferent and unbothered by the prospect of turning it on.

It didn’t have to be this way, and I can’t help but reflect on where this headset went wrong, along with the dozens of devices that litter the timeline before it, languishing away as dead trophies of progressive innovation. Apple has always been known to launch new devices with pared-down functionality and overly simplified controls, but the Vision Pro takes this to the extreme. And the supposedly next-generation visionOS 2, which Apple announced last week, renders incremental updates at best. The reports this week of Apple suspending its work on the next version of the device due to lack of demand and instead prioritizing a cheaper model shows the company is perhaps back-tracking, and that there is internal tension over this launch being a case of technology placed before customer experience (ironically).

While the Vision Pro’s intuitiveness and design are certainly industry-defining standards, the public shame, the discomfort, the price tag, and the lacking functionality are very hard pills to swallow. It's unlikely the Vision Pro will achieve any significant market penetration or build up a base of content and experiences that deliver the lasting emotional impact needed to make it a “must have” investment for individual consumers.

My eyes are still lifting towards the horizon with hope. Hope for much lighter and cheaper hardware. Hope for a solution to the aching loneliness that sets in when you wear it around others and realize they can’t share in what you’re seeing. Hope for a killer app or use case around remote telepresence to catch fire and drive the vast improvements in the cost and miniaturization of the technology that are currently barriers to its mass appeal.

As I watched another slickly produced, uncannily sterile WWDC demo at Apple’s headquarters last week and saw all the inside jokes about software chief Craig Federighi’s hair, one thing was certain: No one high up at Apple is wearing this thing daily either.

With the pending launch of the Vision Pro in Canada in a couple of weeks (I’m based in Toronto), I’ve resigned to the fact that when friends, family, and colleagues ask if they should shell out a significant portion of their disposable income to get one, my answer will be, unfortunately, no.

Not yet at least.

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