TechScape: Is Apple’s $3,500 Vision Pro more than just another tech toy for the rich?

There’s a disconnect between the eye-watering price of Apple’s new ‘spatial computing’ gadget and the promise of it – but it has some genuinely novel features

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Yesterday, Apple finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in Silicon Valley, and announced the Vision Pro, its $3,499 virtual reality headset. From our story:

The headset allows users to interact with “apps and experiences”, the Apple vice-president of human interface design, Alan Dye, said, in an augmented reality (AR) version of their own surroundings or in a fully immersive virtual reality (VR) space.

“Apple Vision Pro relies solely on your eyes, hands and voice,” Dye said. “You browse the system simply by looking. App icons come to life when you look at them; simply tap your fingers together to select, and gently flick to scroll.”

EyeSight, which sounded so ridiculous, could actually … work? A curved, outward-facing OLED screen displays the wearer’s eyes to the outside world, giving the impression of the headset as a simple piece of translucent glass. The screen mists over if the wearer is in a fully immersive VR space, while allowing people to have (simulated, at least) eye contact when in AR mode.

An array of downward and outward-pointing IR cameras let the headset keep track of your position and gestures at all times, allowing the company to build a controller-free experience without requiring the wearer to hold their hands in their eye-line when using the headset.

An AI-powered “persona” (don’t call it an avatar) stands in for you when you make a video call using the Vision Pro. It’s a photorealistic attempt to animate a real picture of you, using the data the headset captures of your eye, mouth and hand movements while you talk. Even in the staged demos, it looked slightly uncanny, but it seems a far smaller hurdle to introduce into the world than trying to encourage people to have business meetings with their Memoji.

Should VR headsets have a bulky battery mounted on your head, or should they rely on a tethered cable to a separate PC? Apple thinks there’s a third option: slip the bulky battery in your back pocket, and run the cable up to a lighter, more comfortable set of goggles. It could work. Or it could be the worst of both worlds: a cable that still inhibits movement and comfort, with none of the power of a real tethered VR system. Hey, not all novelty is a slam-dunk.

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Apple reveals Vision Pro AR headset at its worldwide developers conference

$3,500 headset allows users to ‘browse the system simply by looking’ and tapping their fingers to select, says Apple

Apple has lifted the lid on the worst kept secret in Silicon Valley and revealed the Vision Pro, a $3,499 VR headset.

“With Vision Pro, you’re no longer limited by a display. Your surroundings become an infinite canvas,” the Apple chief executive, Tim Cook, said. “Vision Pro blends digital content into the space around us. It will introduce us to Spatial Computing.”

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TechScape: Will Apple’s new VR headset be the one to finally catch on?

In this week’s newsletter: The $3,000 product could be the next Apple gamechanger – or just another cool toy for those who can afford it

Next Monday will see Apple’s worldwide developers conference kick off, and with it one of the company’s two most important annual press events.

Typically, the keynote at WWDC (or “dub dub”) is a software-focused affair, previewing the next versions of iOS, macOS and so on for an audience of developers who need to get to grips with the updates before their launch in the autumn. It’s balanced out by the hardware-focused events oriented around each year’s iPhone launch, since Apple still likes to play the game of announcing and shipping its top-tier products in short order.

A tethered battery pack, designed to sit in the user’s back pocket, to ease the tradeoff between power and performance on the one hand and weight and comfort on the other.

A screen on the front of the headset, designed solely to show the user’s expressions to the outside world, with the goal of making it more comfortable to interact with people wearing the device.

A focus on “passthrough” use, where a camera on the front of the screen shows the outside world to the wearer, with apps and features superimposed on top.

And, most importantly of all, a price tag of about $3,000.

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