First off, I really, really want one. Yesterday’s announcement was an exciting one, despite the media’s best efforts to spoil and downplay the worst kept secret from One Infinite Loop. Once again, Apple has designed another beautiful device. But it’s what they’ve imagined in the operating system and mixed reality user experience which really capture me. And most importantly, they’ve used their brand heft and showmanship to make a big deal of it. I don’t know much about the headsets already on the market, but it strikes me that they’ve not created any kind of a big bang. Apple has done that. This will get people talking.
Second, I won’t be able to hide my ambivalence about this product. The Vision Pro also troubles me. While I found the carefully crafted demo videos of the in-device experience very compelling, I thought the view from the outside – from the non-wearer’s point of view – was a sad and somewhat dystopian one. The slick demo showed a woman pretty much cut off from her surroundings, despite the augmented versus virtual reality promise of the device. She is wearing something that looks like heavy-duty ski goggles. At one point in the show, they show the user sitting on the sofa in her living room when her daughter comes in to interact with her. Mum comes across as completely zoned out and not really capable of interacting with her daughter at all as she was so immersed in her PowerPoint presentation. Worse was when she was watching a movie. The device signalled to her non-using daughter that Mum was not to be disturbed. It did this by making the device’s outer lens completely cloud over, making it look like Mum was undergoing some sort of deep brainwash and interrupting this would likely cause her a cerebral catastrophe.
This mother-daughter non-interaction reveals what these devices are capable of doing to us. Indeed, in centuries to come, cyborg anthropologists researching primitive homo sapiens of the 21st century will deduce that a company called Apple built devices that were responsible for cutting people off from their fellow humans. They did this first with the iPhone, and then even more so with the Vision Pro. However, and on a more positive note, they will also deduce that Vision Pro was responsible for re-introducing white collar workers to the art of concentration, a skill lost to desk workers sometime at the turn of the millennium due to the popularisation of the internet, social media and the smartphone.
What scares me about the Vision Pro is thus its main strength and attraction. That it will be capable of engaging us so much more in our work and help us to concentrate. I can envision a concentration boost both in Teams meetings and in head-down work (or is it head-up?). It’s the immersion in the subject matter – coupled with the ability to switch off and hide distractions – that will help achieve this concentration boost. I expect developers working on new apps for the Vision Pro will work hard to enhance this effect even more. This will be a major win for worker productivity – so much so that companies might well be willing to pay the eye-watering price for the device.
It’s important to recognise, though, that this is definitely a work-from-home device. I can’t see anyone taking one of these to the office. In fact, I’d expect that pretty quickly office etiquette will dictate that wearing a Vision Pro in the workplace is a big no-no. Hopefully, users will also do the same at home. When you’ve got company, it has to be strictly goggles off.