One week on with the Apple Vision Pro
Now I've had a few days with Apple's Vision Pro headset, some thoughts on work and productivity, immersive experiences, learning and education, and entertainment!
This time last week I was writing about my first impressions of Apple’s new Vision Pro “spatial computing” headset, a mere hour or so after picking the device up.
Of course first impressions can be deceptive. And so having spent a whole week using the device I thought I’d write about some of my “second impressions”.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve found my thoughts on the headset changing almost daily this past week — and in ways I wasn’t expecting.
A week ago I was taken aback by the high fidelity immersiveness of the headset. Like many first users, my thoughts immediately went to gaming, entertainment, and the seduction of being sucked into virtual 3D worlds.
I’m sure these will continue to be important to some users. But what took me by surprise as I continued to use it was the possibilities that the Vision Pro opens up when you look beyond the entertainment factor.
To back up a little, we’re currently exploring the Vision Pro as part of ASU’s Future of Being Human initiative — if this is going to be as transformative a technology as some are predicting, we wanted to get an early handle on how it might change the ways people behave, interact with others, and live their lives.
We’re also interested in how the technology might affect the future of travel — possibly an odd-seeming intersection until you begin to think about how immersive 3D environments could transform why we travel, how we behave when we’re traveling, and how travel infrastructure evolves as a result.
And we’re interested in how technologies like this that seamlessly blend real and virtual environments potentially impact institutions like universities — especially somewhere like Arizona State University that has a deep commitment to rethinking the value and purpose of the university in a socially complex and technologically advanced world — hence the header image to this article with ASU’s Charter.
As a result, I’ve been playing with the Vision Pro with a particular eye to how it might be used to substantially enhance or otherwise impact the things we do.
Work and productivity
I must confess that the novelty factor of the Vision Pro wore off pretty fast. Once I’d experienced Apple’s immersive dinosaur app, looked at a few photos, played a movie, and tried to find a killer app (still waiting), I was left wondering what this device was really useful for — especially as the headset tends not to be that comfortable to wear for long periods.
Then I started use the Vision Pro for as a work/productivity, and everything changed.
The Vision Pro doesn’t have many apps yet that are actually useful when it comes to doing stuff. But one thing it does do is allow you to move your laptop or desktop screen into its virtual environment.
Simply look at your laptop and —assuming you’re logged in with the same Apple I D on both devices — you get a floating window asking if you want to connect to it.
When you do, you get a virtual screen that’s as small or large as you’d like — and by large I mean LARGE.
This may sound a little gimmicky. But I spent most of yesterday working in this environment — and it was comfortable enough that I found myself wanting to stay there. (Here it’s worth noting that the headset can be hard on the face, but there’s a knack to seating it more comfortably — even with the solo knit band).
You can get a sense (albeit a rather diminished 2D one) of my virtual workspace below — although be warned it may be a little motion-sickness inducing (but wasn’t for me as the wearer!).
I spent a good few hours in this environment working on university promotion and tenure cases — a process where it’s necessary to move frequently between several documents. Having the large virtual desktop with multiple documents open side by side made this easy — and working with Word documents within this virtual environment turned out to feel quite natural.
I also found that, because I could position the virtual screen in its ideal location, the environment less fatiguing on my eyes and neck than working on my laptop.
The other project I was working on was prep for a journal review of the film The Creator. Using the headset I could have the movie playing on a large screen while also typing up my noted on an adjacent screen. In this case I used a connected bluetooth keyboard, which worked surprisingly well.
I must confess that I loved this setup — the movie was stunning in its large screen version — more impactful than I remember it being in the theater — and being able to write up my notes in the same virtual environment was a definite boon.
The thing that really surprised me though in both of these work cases was being connected to the physical environment I was in.
With the Vision Pro’s impressive video passthrough I felt that I was both connected to the room I was in — and the people in it — and the virtual environment I’d formed around me. Going fully immersive made me feel isolated. In contrast being able to see my surrounding made me feel as if my virtual work environment was an extension on the real world, not a substitute for it.
Of course, there are limitations to using the Vision Pro’s “spatial computing” environment for productive work at the moment — I’d love to be able to drag multiple windows from my laptop into the environment, and I desperately want widgets that allow me to post stickies, see the time, and a plethora of other things.
But I’m sure these will come.
The bottom line here — and remembering that this is just one week in — is that I can see the technology behind Apple’s spatial computing changing the way we work (whether formally or informally), much as laptops and tablets changed the ways we work in the past. And if the technology advances fast and the price drops even faster, I can see being a much more significant jump than we saw with laptops and tablets.
Beyond productivity, the other feature of the Vision Pro that grabbed my attention was the ability to experience photos and videos like you’ve never experienced them before.
This past week I found myself thinking time and time again “why didn’t I take more panoramic photos on my iPhone?!”
Panoramas are a revelation. Even looking at panoramas I took several years ago, they are utterly stunning in the Vision Pro. They’re immersive in a way that’s hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it. And — and this is the kicker to me — they allow you to convey the experience of being somewhere to others that is utterly compelling.
The video capture from the Vision Pro below doesn’t do this justice, but it gives you a sense of what the experience of being immersed in a panoramic photo is like:
I used to think that panoramic photos taken on my iPhone were a bit of a gimmick. With the Vision Pro, they are transformational.
The same goes for regular photos and videos, but to a lesser extent. It’s certainly satisfying browsing through old photos at high resolution on a floor to ceiling virtual screen (see below). And being able to play back videos from your phone in life-size is quite amazing. But for sheer wow factor, panoramas are what did it for me.
And it’s not just the novelty of being able to be immersed in a photo rather than looking at it. if you have a phone that takes panoramic photos, the barrier to entry to creating immersive content is ridiculously low. Imagine being able to immerse someone in remote locations, or in a performance, or a lab, or pretty much anywhere — all with the click of an iPhone screen.
It may seem trivial, but this possibility of enabling people to experience places and environments that they would never otherwise get to — and to do it with a phone — is massive.
And this, of course, raises the question of how spatial computing might impact education and learning more broadly.
Education and learning
I should say here that I tend to be skeptical about the overenthusiastic use of technology in education. I have a philosophy as an educator of putting learning and student success first, and using the lowest level of tech necessary to achieve the outcomes that I’m looking for. And because of this I try and avoid the pitfall of becoming wrapped up in complicated and expensive technology solutions in search of an educational problem to solve.
In this context, I don’t think that either the Vision Pro or Apple’s Spatial Computing environment are clear cut boons for learning. But they have potential — as long as they are used to add unique value to education. And I can certainly see how, if used in the right way, the technology could help create learning environments that some people would benefit from.
There are, of course, initiatives in play already that are actively looking at using VR in learning — including in the realm of “edutainment” where the assumption is that learning can be substantially enhanced if the education environment is as entertaining as it is instructive.
These initiatives have merit for some students where they might struggle with particular topics and teaching approaches. And there’s evidence that a immersive and entertaining environment can shift the needle in some cases. But I’m not yet convinced how effective they are for students who are hungry for new knowledge, and looking for a learning firehose rather than a educational trickle.
This of course may be down to my own idiosyncratic biases. But my curiosity and hunger to learn has always led to me getting frustrated with educational tools and environments that seem to throttle the flow of knowledge. I really dislike videos for this reason because they are so painfully slow at conveying new knowledge compared to, for instance, reading — even on 2x speed. And I have no patience at all for environments that proceed at a glacial pace compared to the speed at which my mind is going.
Because of this, I quickly get bored and frustrated with entertainment-driven VR learning environments. But I can very much see how Apple’s spatial computing environment could be used for more of a firehose learning experience than a throttled down one — especially when it comes to blending the real and virtual with dense content which is attuned to the modalities and speed that some students are looking for.
Nothing even faintly satisfying exists yet, but it’s going to be interesting to see what first movers achieve in developing effective spatial computing learning environments with. Hopefully at least some of them will look beyond entertainment and gimmickry, and embrace dense and accelerated learning possibilities.
Finally, I couldn’t finish this article without talking about entertainment and the Apple Vision Pro.
As you’ll probably gather from what I’ve already written, this isn’t something that particularly interests me — give me a good book rather than a $3500 headset any day! But it’s hard to deny that, for some people, blended reality entertainment will be important.
I also have to admit that watching movies in the headset is pretty amazing — especially when you realize you can lie on the couch while watching a humongous 3D movie on the ceiling!
This past week I’ve been letting my students try out the Vision Pro and watching their responses — and it’s movies that are the killer app every time. The video below (posted with permission) does a pretty good job of capturing this:
I’ll admit that watching a whole movie using the headset does take a little getting used to. If you’re not actively doing stuff in the blended environment it can get fatiguing to wear after a while. But that aside, the ability to watch movies on a screen that’s larger than your local IMAX is pretty amazing.
I also need to give a nod to Apple’s spatial audio here: the audio feed from the Vision Pro is something else. The headset manages to position the source of sounds in the 3D blended space it immerses you in. And as a result, when you watch a movie, it sounds like the the soundtrack is coming from the movie screen itself — not this device stuck on your head.
This may not sound like such a big deal until you experience it. But it’s one more thing that makes wearing the headset feel like it’s rewriting the rules around what is possible,
All in all, I continue to be intrigued by the Vision Pro. I’m pretty sure that the tech it represents will end up being sticky and will change the way we do stuff. Of course it’ll take a generation or two of products to begin to unlock the potential. But I’d be surprised if, a few years from now, spatial computing within blended environments isn’t commonplace.
And I say this because spatial computing is patently not simply an extension of VR or AR, but a new way of thinking about how we interact with advanced digital technologies.
As the technology becomes more capable and more commonplace, it’ll be increasingly important to ask how it will change our lives, where the opportunities lie, where the pitfalls are, and how we work our way between them.
I’m less concerned than I was a week ago that spatial computing could plunge us into a societal crisis — I think the analogy here between how laptops, tablets, and smart phones changed how we do things is a good one. At the same time, if this technology continues to to advance, it could open up transformational possibilities that will inevitably come with risks as well as benefits.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to what weeks 2, 3, 4, and beyond bring!