A reality check for the VR industry

My thoughts on Vision Pro: A reality check for the VR industry

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The first reviews of the Vision Pro show that Apple is subject to the same limitations as Meta, and that VR headsets aren’t much closer to becoming the next computing platform.

When the Vision Pro was finally unveiled in June 2023, I wrote a lengthy op-ed about the device. Now that the first non-curated reviews of the Vision Pro have been published, and we have a better picture of what this headset’s strengths and weaknesses are, here is a second op-ed.

I will write a third and final op-ed once I have had a chance to test the Vision Pro for myself. That will take a while, as I don’t intend to spend several thousand US dollars on it, or even fly to the US to get one (I’m living in Europe). But more on that later.

As for the Vision Pro reviews and videos, I’m still processing the flood of information. These are not traditional reviews. Many are incredibly long without being digressive. Like the one from The Verge. Just under 10,000 words. That’s 20 pages of text!

A new computing paradigm …

I think the length is justified. After all, this is not the umpteenth smartphone or laptop review. Vision Pro aims to introduce a new computing platform, and by doing so, it offers a myriad of innovations that need to be explored and discussed individually: its spatial operating system, its new UI and input scheme, its integration into Apple’s existing app ecosystem, the EyeSight display, and much more.

Despite Apple’s marketing, the Vision Pro is essentially a VR headset, but it totally makes sense to me to call it a spatial computer. I see the most popular VR headset on the market, the Meta Quest, primarily as a game console or fitness device that I can also use to surf the Internet. But I wouldn’t dream of using it to replace my laptop. As the Quest Pro showed, it lacks a good operating system and multitasking, a connection to existing app ecosystems, the display quality, and the processing power.

Vision Pro claims to be an all-purpose computer, and as such it is not only a more multifaceted and complex product than Meta Quest. It is also a new kind of computer that is about to redefine the term computer. With this in mind, it becomes clearer why many of the reviews are so extensive.

… with many limitations

My favorite review is the one written by The Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel, because it exposes the fundamental problems with face computers that Vision Pro doesn’t solve: that the devices feel heavy and uncomfortable on your head and face, that in many ways they limit rather than expand your vision, that they isolate you from other people, and that they’re too clunky to replace laptops.

The biggest problem with headsets is that they are headsets. And that fact literally weighs down the Vision Pro like every other headset before it. Vision Pro is Apple’s first step into the future of spatial computing, not VR’s iPhone moment, not the VR savior that so many fans of the technology were hoping for in the run-up to its launch.

The device, Patel writes again and again, is magical until it isn’t. He’s referring to the disconnect between an amazing new technology and its teething problems, shortcomings, and trade-offs. Vision Pro is by far the best VR headset ever built, but not nearly good enough to take over the world.

A polarizing product

It must have been difficult for Patel to give the device a score. The Vision Pro seems to be incredibly good and problematic at the same time, with little space in between. The only way to describe it is in superlatives, whether positive or negative. Moreover, there is no other headset with which the Vision Pro can be compared, as the Meta Quest is more of a game console than a general-purpose computer.

It’s clear now that Vision Pro is just another developer kit on the long and uncertain road to immersive headsets, not their breakthrough. Apple faces the same fundamental limitations as Meta in terms of form factor, input paradigm, passthrough quality, and avatars, and I doubt that the company has solved any of the fundamental problems of VR headsets, with the exception of ecosystem integration, even if Netflix and many other big apps are currently boycotting the device.

Meta is not out of the game, on the contrary

I think Meta’s products and overall VR strategy will be more recognized and appreciated as a result of Apple’s entry, and not just because these devices are many times cheaper. The market will differentiate and people will see where the strengths and weaknesses of Vision Pro Meta Quest are.

I’m a VR and AR enthusiast, but I’m not going to buy a Vision Pro at that exorbitant price. After all these years, I know too much about VR headsets and their limitations. I think I would primarily use the Vision Pro to consume traditional media, but after the novelty and magic wears off, I will grab my Meta Quest to engage with the really cool things the technology has to offer, like gaming and fitness. I don’t need an expensive headset for floating 2D windows and productivity, at least not in the current form factor.

Still, I’m looking forward to testing Vision Pro in depth one day. I’m excited to see how it fits into my daily life and my previous headset usage. And then I will write my third and final op-ed.

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