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The Apple Vision Pro is a marvel. But who will buy it?

The Apple Vision Pro is a marvel. But who will buy it?

Last week, I was escorted by an Apple employee through a security door, across a manicured lawn, down the stairs and inside the Steve Jobs Theater to see a preview of the company's new Vision Pro headset. Had entered the living room.

Like other journalists who were given early tours of Vision Pro, my demo wasn't perfect. I spent about 45 minutes wearing the device under the supervision of two attentive Apple employees, who guided me through a curated demo while I sat next to them on a midcentury gray sofa. I was not allowed to take any photos or videos of the device or bring it home for further testing.

Given how limited my testing was, I can't in good conscience tell you whether the Vision Pro is worth $3,500 or not – yes, three thousand five hundred United States dollars – it costs. (That price doesn't include taxes or the cost of any add-on accessories, such as the $100 Zeiss lens inserts that are required if you wear prescription glasses or contacts, or the $200 travel case.)

I also can't say whether the Vision Pro solves what I call the “six-month problem.” With many of the VR headsets I've tried — and I've tried a lot — the initial novelty wears off, and minor irritations like blurry graphics or a lack of compelling apps start to add up. Six months later, of course, every headset I test ends up collecting dust in my closet.

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

First of all, in many ways, the Vision Pro is an impressive product that took years and billions of dollars to create. When it comes to its eye-tracking and gesture-based controls, the quality of its display, and the way it combines immersive virtual experiences with capability, it's many times better than the previous best VR headsets on the market, the Meta Quest series. Is. To see the world around you, a feature called “pass-through”.

I was beginning to be skeptical in my demo—Apple's aggressive stage-management made me wonder what the company was trying to hide—but there were several moments while wearing the Vision Pro when I felt genuine surprise, and at what. The realization that it exists could prove to be a sea change in computing.

The other thing to say about the Vision Pro is that even after trying it out, I still don't know who or what this thing should be for. At $3,500, this is not a device for the masses or even the mass affluent. It's a big, brash statement – ​​a status symbol for your face.

That's not to say the Vision Pro isn't attractive, or that I didn't enjoy testing it. It is, and I did. But after my experience, I have a better idea of ​​what kinds of people might be tempted to buy it now, and which might be better off waiting.

If you are one of these estimated 40 percent For Americans who have never tried a virtual reality headset, the Vision Pro will likely blow your mind.

If this is your first foray into VR, it's really worthwhile getting a Vision Pro demo at the Apple Store after the sale starts on Friday or convincing a friend to let you use theirs. (Like boats, VR headsets are often better to borrow rather than buy.)

Early VR headsets suffered from problems like blurry displays, headache-inducing motion tracking, cheap controllers, and the fact that you couldn't do anything else while wearing them.

Apple has addressed many of these problems, starting with the Vision Pro's display: two The screens are approximately the size of postage stamps. They're amazing: crisp, bright, detailed. When you look at them, you feel as if you are not looking at a screen, but looking out of your eyes.

I was also impressed by the Vision Pro's immersion toggle, which allows you to see what's happening in the room around you by turning a dial on the top of the device.

Unlike other VR systems, you don't need controllers with Vision Pro. To navigate, you just look for an icon. Then, you press your thumb and a finger together to select it. The learning process isn't difficult, but I needed a few minutes to master it.

The Vision Pro is comfortable to wear. I say “ish” because although it felt quite light on my head and didn't give me a headache like other VR headsets, I did feel a little discomfort when my eyes adjusted after putting it on and taking it off. (A colleague who also took the 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 will get used to them. But they weren't bad enough to ruin the experience.

After a short setup process, my Apple minder directed me to the Photos app on the Vision Pro. There, I found several examples of what Apple is calling “Spatial Photos and Videos.” These are created using the three-dimensional camera that is built into Vision Pro itself. (The latest high-end iPhones, the iPhone 15 Max and Max Pro, can also be had.)

I've been excited and disappointed by the promise of 3-D photos and video for years. I'm a little obsessed with cameras, and I've long been looking forward to the day when 3-D images will be so good that I'll feel like I'm actually reliving a family memory rather than looking at a grainy snapshot. I am living.

Watching spatial photos and videos on Vision Pro made me realize that the moment had come. The photos and videos at Apple's demo — which included a scene from a child's birthday party, a mother making bubbles for her daughter, and a video of a family gathered around a kitchen table — were gorgeous, and the 3- The depth added by the D camera made them look unnaturally realistic. In my eyes, it was no different than being part of the scene itself. The thought of reliving my son's first steps like this many years from now makes me choke up.

Not everyone is so emotional. But Apple's spatial photos and video impressed me, and I think other camera-obsessed parents will be able to justify the Vision Pro's hefty price for home movie capability alone.

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

Apple has billed the Vision Pro as a desk worker's dream: a spatial computer that allows you to create your own perfect desk setup and take it with you wherever you go. Users can open any number of virtual windows, resize and move them around in space, and combine them with real-world Mac displays.

I haven't had a chance 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 you use to scroll on the Vision Pro was harder than using a regular mouse or track pad. And typing on the Vision Pro's virtual keyboard was a slow, clumsy mess. (Just typing nytimes.com into Safari took me more than a minute.) Anyone who wants to do real work on the Vision Pro will need to connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, which beats the portability part. gives. Fluctuation of voice.

Video calls couldn't be much better. I wasn't able to test FaceTime on a third-party video conferencing app like Vision Pro, or Zoom, but other reviewers have given Personas — Apple's attempt at creating a lifelike avatar that can stand in for you on a video call — A Failure,

I got a chance to try out a workplace tool that wasn't part of the official demo, a version of Keynote, Apple's slideshow app, that lets you rehearse a presentation in a simulated conference room or on a virtual stage. But it felt more like a gimmick than a real productivity boost.

Apple is also trying to make the Vision Pro attractive to fans of entertaining movies and games.

My demo included several movie clips, including a scene from “Super Mario Bros. 3-D,” a “Star Wars” trailer, and some Apple-made clips from various immersive movies, like a soccer game and footage of a scuba diver swimming. With sharks. I also watched an interactive video in which a butterfly landed on my finger and a dinosaur appeared from the screen and came towards me.

Some of these clips were impressive, and the technology required to present them on such a small screen is understated. (One clip, of a tightrope walker balancing himself while hanging over a valley, was so realistic that it induced a fear of heights in me.)

But I've seen similar things on other VR headsets, and the Vision Pro's movie watching experience wasn't any better than those models to justify the device's cost. This doesn't help many major entertainment companies like Netflix and YouTube. Apps for Vision Pro are not offeredSo if you want to get the fully immersive experience, you'll have to use Apple TV or another compatible service like Disney+.

I can't see myself wanting to play games on the Vision Pro, at least not with the low game selection available for the device today. Without external controllers, the device is no good for fine movements or rapid button presses, making it a poor choice for serious gamers. And forget about working out in it; Do you think I'd risk ruining a $3,500 computer by the sweat of my face?

The most obvious lesson from my demo — besides the fact that I needed to spend more time with this thing to get a full picture of its capabilities — is that the Vision Pro doesn't blend into its surroundings as well as Apple would like. . To.

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

But that's not going to happen, at least not for some time.

That's because much of what's impressive about Vision Pro takes place in a fully immersive VR environment, not the kinds of “augmented reality” situations that Apple is envisioning, in which virtual objects superimpose over your physical surroundings. Dominate. And while Apple has made it very easy to toggle between the virtual and physical worlds, there is still some friction involved.

VR headsets are still niche enough that they command attention, which is why the target market for the Vision Pro right now includes both show-offs (people) want obsessing over wearing the latest high-end Apple gadget) and shut-ins (people who rarely leave their houses anyway, so what does it matter if the device stares at?).

The novelty factor may be wearing off, but for now, this is a real consideration for anyone hoping to fly under the radar by wearing the Vision Pro. Like it or not, Apple has created a device that's too wild to ignore.

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