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The Apple Vision Pro is wonderful. But who will buy it?| GuyWhoKnowsThings

Last week, an Apple employee ushered me through a security gate, across a manicured lawn, down a flight of stairs, and into a tastefully decorated faux living room inside the Steve Jobs Theater to obtain a preview of the company's new Vision Pro headphones.

My demo, like early tours of the Vision Pro offered to other journalists, was far from exhaustive. I spent about 45 minutes using the device under the supervision of two attentive Apple employees, who guided me through a selected demo while I sat on a mid-century gray couch next to them. I was not allowed to take pictures or videos of the device or take one home for further testing.

Given how limited my testing was, I can't in good conscience tell you if the Vision Pro is worth the $3,500; Yeah, three thousand five hundred united states dollars – costs. (This price does not include taxes or cost of any additional accessoriessuch as the $100 Zeiss lens inserts required if you wear prescription glasses or contact lenses, or the $200 travel case).

I also can't say if Vision Pro solves what I call the “six month problem.” With many virtual reality headsets that I have tried, and I have I tried a lot – the initial novelty wears off and minor annoyances, like blurry graphics or lack of engaging apps, start to pile up. Six months later, invariably, every headphone I test ends up in my closet collecting dust.

But I can say two things about my first impressions of the Vision Pro.

First of all, in many ways, Vision Pro is an impressive product, which has taken many years and billions of dollars to develop. It's much better than the best VR headsets on the market, the Meta Quest series, when it comes to its gesture-based controls and eye tracking, the quality of its displays, and the way it combines immersive virtual experiences with the ability. to see the world around you, a feature known as “broadcast.”

I was prepared for skepticism going into my demo (Apple's aggressive stage direction made me wonder what the company was trying to hide), but there were several moments while using the Vision Pro where I felt genuine awe and a sense of being present. in what could become a major change in computing.

The second thing to say about the Vision Pro is that even after trying it out, I still have no idea who or what it's supposed to be for. For $3,500, it's not a device for the masses, not even the wealthy masses. It's a big honking piece – a status symbol for your face.

Which isn't to say that the Vision Pro isn't compelling or that I didn't enjoy trying it. It is, and I did it. But after my experience, I have a better idea of ​​the type of people who might be tempted to buy one now and who would be better off waiting.

If you are one of the estimated 40 percent Of those Americans who have never tried a virtual reality headset, the Vision Pro is likely to surprise them.

If this is your first foray into VR, it's really worth getting a demo of the Vision Pro at an Apple store once it goes on sale on Friday, or convincing a friend to let you use theirs. (Virtual reality headsets, like boats, are often better to borrow than buy.)

Early virtual reality headsets were plagued with problems like blurry screens, headache-inducing motion tracking, cheap controllers, and the fact that you couldn't do anything else while wearing them.

Apple has solved many of these problems, starting with the Vision Pro's screens: two screens about the size of postage stamps. They are incredible: sharp, bright and detailed. When you look at them, you feel like you're looking through their eyes, not at a screen.

I was also impressed with the Vision Pro's dip lever, which lets you see more of what's going on in the room around you by turning a dial on the top of the device.

Unlike other virtual reality systems, Vision Pro requires no drivers. To navigate, just look at an icon. Then put your thumb and one finger together to select it. The learning curve isn't steep, but it took me a few minutes to get the hang of it.

Using Vision Pro is comfortable. I say “ish” because while it felt fairly light on my head and didn't give me a headache like other VR headsets do, I did feel slight discomfort as my eyes adjusted after putting it on and taking it off. (A colleague who also received a demo compared it to the feeling you get when you walk out of a dark movie theater on a sunny day.)

I don't know if these are temporary problems or if I would acclimate to them. But they weren't bad enough to ruin the experience.

After a brief setup process, my Apple assistant guided me to the Photos app on the Vision Pro. There I found several examples of what Apple calls “spatial photos and videos.” These are created using a three-dimensional camera built into the Vision Pro itself. (The newer high-end iPhones, the iPhone 15 Max and Max Pro, can also accept them.)

For years I've been excited (and disappointed) by the promise of 3D photos and videos. I'm a slightly camera-obsessive parent, and I've long awaited the day when 3D images are good enough to make me feel like I'm actually reliving a family memory, rather than staring at a grainy snapshot.

Looking at space photos and videos on Vision Pro, I realized that moment had arrived. The photos and videos from the Apple demo (which included a scene from a child's birthday party, a video of a mother blowing bubbles for her daughter, and a family gathered around the kitchen table) were gorgeous, and the Depth added by the 3-D camera made them astonishingly realistic. In my eyes, it felt no different than being part of the scene myself. I got a lump in my throat thinking about seeing my son's first steps like this again in a few years.

Not everyone is so sentimental. But Apple's space photos and videos struck a chord with me, and I imagine other camera-obsessed parents will almost be able to justify the Vision Pro's high price tag on the home movie potential alone.

I was less impressed when it came to work-related tasks.

Apple has billed the Vision Pro as a desktop worker's dream: a space-saving computer that lets you create your perfect desktop setup and take it anywhere. Users can open any number of virtual windows, resize and move them in space, and combine them with a real-world Mac display.

I wasn't able to try writing a column or hosting a podcast in Vision Pro. But I tried some basic web browsing and typing, and found the experience disappointing.

The pinch-and-drag gesture used to scroll on a Vision Pro was a pain compared to using a regular mouse or trackpad. And typing on the Vision Pro's virtual keyboard was a slow, clunky mess. (Just typing nytimes.com in Safari took me almost a minute.) Anyone looking to get real work done on the Vision Pro will likely need to connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, which defeats the portability part of the tone.

Video calls may not be much better. I wasn't able to test FaceTime on Vision Pro or third-party video conferencing apps like Zoom, but other reviewers have given People (Apple's attempt to create a realistic avatar that can replace you on video calls) a rating. thumbs down.

I was able to try out a workplace tool that wasn't part of the official demo, a version of Keynote, Apple's slideshow app, which lets you rehearse a presentation in a simulated conference room or on a virtual stage. But it seemed more like a gimmick than a true productivity enhancer.

Apple is also trying to make the Vision Pro appeal to fans of movies and immersive games.

My demo included several movie clips, including a scene from “Super Mario Brothers 3-D,” a “Star Wars” trailer, and some Apple-produced clips from several immersive movies, such as footage of a football game and a scuba diver. swimming. with sharks I also watched an interactive video where a butterfly landed on my finger and a dinosaur appeared off-screen at me.

Some of these clips were impressive and the technology needed to play them on such small screens is nothing to sneeze at. (One clip, of a tightrope walker balancing while she was suspended over a canyon, was so realistic it triggered my fear of heights.)

But I've seen similar things in other VR headsets, and the Vision Pro's movie-watching experience wasn't enough superior to those models to justify the device's cost. It doesn't help that several leading entertainment companies, such as Netflix and YouTube, They do not offer applications for Vision Proso you'll have to use Apple TV or another compatible service, like Disney+, if you want a fully immersive experience.

I also don't see myself wanting to play games on a Vision Pro, at least not with the limited selection of games available for the device today. Without external controllers, the device is not good for fine movements or rapid button presses, making it a poor choice for serious gamers. and forget Working on it; You think I'm going to risk ruining a $3,500 computer with my face sweating?

The clearest takeaway from my demo, aside from the fact that I need to spend more time with this to get a more complete idea of ​​its capabilities, is that the Vision Pro doesn't integrate into its environment as well as Apple wants. to.

Apple has avoided marketing Vision Pro as something that replaces the real world or isolates you in some kind of sci-fi metaverse. You want using a Vision Pro to be as subtle and discreet as pulling out an iPhone or a pair of AirPods.

But that's not going to happen, at least not for a while.

That's because most of the Vision Pro's impressiveness happens in fully immersed virtual reality environments, not the kind of “augmented reality” situations Apple is envisioning, where virtual objects are superimposed on their surroundings. physical. And while Apple has made it much easier to switch between the virtual and physical worlds, there are still some frictions involved.

Virtual reality headsets are still niche enough to turn heads, which is why the Vision Pro's target market right now includes both braggarts (people who want to be noticed using the latest high-end Apple device) and locked in (people who rarely leave their homes anyway, so why does it matter if the device attracts stares?).

The novelty factor may wear off, but for now, it's a real consideration for anyone who wants to go unnoticed while using a Vision Pro. Like it or not, Apple has created a device that's too wild to be ignored.

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