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Why it's not easy to make face computers cool| GuyWhoKnowsThings


After years of anticipation, Apple's first major new product in nearly a decade has arrived. He $3,500 Vision Proa face computer that resembles ski goggles will launch next week.

So what can we expect?

The device, which includes high-resolution displays and sensors that track eye movements and hand gestures, is one of Apple's most ambitious products. Consider headphones the beginning of an era of “spatial computing”, which combines data with the physical world to improve our lives. Imagine giving a presentation with digital notes in the corner of your eye, for example.

I was among the first group of journalists to try Vision Pro last year and came away Impressed with the image quality but ultimately not sure. that people would want to use it. My skepticism was influenced by my experience using more than a dozen headsets over the past 12 years from companies like Google, Meta, Snap, Samsung and Sony, including virtual reality goggles that connected to bulky desktop computers and smart glasses that They took photographs. The devices were intended to create immersive experiences for doing things by moving your body instead of typing on keyboards.

Generally speaking, the problem with headphones has less to do with technology and more to do with behavior: people quickly tire of wearing a computer on their face, Devices end up in closets.and software developers lose interest in creating applications. Sale of mixed reality and virtual reality headsets. fell 8.3 percent last year, according to research firm IDC, although they may recover this year with Apple's entry into the market.

Although Apple has a reputation for arriving late to the party with superior products, as it was with music players and smartphones, the Vision Pro is not guaranteed to be a big hit, especially with its impressive price tag.

“Is this Apple entering a market late but with the best product and will therefore be successful?” asked Michael Gartenberg, a technology analyst and former chief marketing officer at Apple. “Or is there not a market because there are no $3,500 headphones aimed at the mass market?”

To better understand how an Apple computer may (or may not) fit into our lives in the future, it's worth taking this moment to remember the many computers I've used that set the stage for the Vision Pro.

In 2012, Google introduced a mixed reality headset, Google glass. It was basically a headband with a camera and monocle, placed above the right eye, containing a transparent screen that displayed a calendar and mapping software. To demonstrate its exciting potential, Google produced a video of people using the computer's face while jumping out of a plane.

When I tested an early prototype of Google Glass that year, the only working feature was a mapping app that showed directions as you walked along a path. This could be useful, in theory, for keeping my eyes on the road while driving or cycling, but at a significant cost: I looked like a “Star Trek” character.

Sure enough, after Google Glass made its public debut, chaos ensued. A blogger in San Francisco was attacked for carrying one. Memes emerged, including the term “Crystal hole” for anyone who may be recording videos of people without their permission. Google finally marketed the monocle as a business devicebut finally removed the product in 2023.

After the failure of Google Glass, the tech industry regrouped and tried to address design and privacy issues. In 2016 and 2021, Break and Goal launched stylish glasses with cameras and small lights that indicated when a user was recording. Both products were unpopular. I recently tested the second-generation Meta glasses and concluded that, while they looked satisfyingly modern, privacy concerns remained because no one noticed when I was taking photos of them.

The tech industry was also eager to sell people a different type of virtual reality headset. The headset, which looked like plastic glasses, blocked your view of the outside world to immerse you in a three-dimensional digital environment and experience something as if you were really there: moving your head to look at the Grand Canyon, for example. example.

To make it easier to sell virtual reality headsets, tech companies like Google and Samsung tried to rely on smartphones for their screens and computing power. In 2015, Samsung collaborated with virtual reality company Oculus. to design Gear VR, a headset into which the user could insert a smartphone to view virtual reality content. In 2016, Google launched Daydream VR, a similar product for Android phones.

While the products reduced the cost for people to try VR, I had issues with them. Smartphones running virtual reality software became very hot, their batteries drained quickly, and the apps were gimmicky; One simulation I tried involved staring at a virtual dinosaur. Google removed Daydream VR in 2019 and Samsung announced the end of its virtual reality content services in 2020.

In 2016, Oculus, which Meta had acquired for $2 billion two years earlier, launched the Oculus Rift, a high-end virtual reality system that connects to a powerful desktop computer. The entire package, which included headphones, a game controller and a computer, cost $1,500. With 30 games at launch, the product was marketed as a next-generation gaming device.

Virtual reality games were designed to allow you to move as if you were inside the game. A shooting game might involve searching for weapons, crouching, and using motion controllers to pick them up and fire them at opponents.

Other similar products followed, including Sony's $400 PlayStation VR, a headset that connects to PlayStation consoles. For years, PlayStation headsets dominated the high-powered virtual reality space because they reduced costs by eliminating the need to purchase a separate computer. The second generation PlayStation headset came on the market last year.

However, a Sony executive recently called virtual reality a “challenging category” because virtual reality hadn't changed much for the gaming industry. Most people still prefer to play video games on a television.

In my experience testing all of these products over the years, they shared the same flaws: the headphones felt heavy, the hardware and cables created clutter in the living room, and there weren't many engaging games to play.

Standalone headsets, which bring together computer, display and sensor technologies into a single product, have become the most convenient virtual reality products to date. Since 2019, Meta's Quest headphones, which range from $250 to $1,000, have used this approach, but the products are not yet a widespread success.

Last year, Meta launched the $500 Quest 3, its first consumer headset focused on mixed reality, which uses cameras to view the real world while wearing the headset. When firing a gun within a shooting game, you can take cover behind the couch in your living room, for example. In my testing, I concluded that while the graphics were much improved, the headphones felt too heavy on my neck after about 15 minutes. I was also not impressed with the games and the device's short two-hour battery life.

This brings us all to the product in question: Vision Pro, which Apple markets as a productivity tool to replace your laptop with a virtual screen and digital keyboard, 3D movie player, and gaming device.

At 21 ounces, the Vision Pro is just as heavy as Meta's products, and my eyes and neck felt equally fatigued after using it for half an hour.

The Apple headphones' battery, a separate block that connects to the glasses via a cable, offers two hours of battery life like the Meta's: not enough to finish most movies, let alone get much work done. .

As for games, no major game studio has yet announced any created specifically for the Vision Pro. However, the headset includes an app to watch a dinosaur in 3-D.


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