Today Apple finally unveiled the Vision Pro, its brand new “spatial computer.” It’s pretty! It’s cutting edge! At $3,500 it’s also… overwhelmingly expensive!
But beyond the jokes and the memes, there was a moment in Apple’s new launch trailer for the Vision Pro headset that almost made my stomach lurch. A moment that felt borderline dystopian.
It occurred roughly halfway through the above video. A dad stands awkwardly in the kitchen. He’s using the Vision Pro headset to check his email when his daughter – dressed to play soccer complete with goalie gloves – runs out. She rolls a ball to her Dad who, still wearing the headset, sort of distractedly kicks the ball back to her.
As a dad who’s spent a depressing amount of time trying to get rid of their kids, so I could spend more time glued to an Apple device, it was relatable. It also felt icky.
I don’t recommend play soccer while wearing a $3500 computer on your face.
But it wasn’t designed to feel icky. It was supposed to be heartwarming. Designed to dispel concerns about Vision Pro and virtual reality headsets in general. Look, it says, the dream is possible! You can still live life and interact with your family whilst wearing a gigantic, expensive headset on your face! You won’t become a hollowed out shell of a human! Vision Pro won’t suck you into a virtual reality hellscape devoid of human interaction!
And maybe it won’t! But that doesn’t matter. Regardless of how it works and if it works, for the past 10 years human beings have loudly and repeatedly told the big brains of Silicon Valley they don’t want to put computers on their face.
There was Google Glass, a spectacular failure device so misguided that those involved with its creation made Twitter threads explaining why it was misguided. A piece of tech so maligned that – collectively – we decided to actively bully those who wore it. We called them “glassholes”.
Then there’s VR – a technology so sci-fi its ascendancy felt inevitable, but that wasn’t the case. Tech limitations and a small install base rendered VR the domain of niche hobbyists who mostly use it to play Beat Saber two or three times a year. That’s pretty much it.
I should know. I was that guy. I am that guy. I backed the first Oculus Rift on Kickstarter. I’ll never forget the giddy joy I had unwrapping the development kit for the very first time. It felt like the future, but months later it was gathering dust. Just like every VR headset I’ve acquired in its wake, including – most recently – the PSVR2 headset that I got a few months ago. I’ve used it twice since its launch in February this year.
Again, even when people do want to put tech on their face, they inevitably get bored of putting tech on their face.
Over the last decade we’ve watched VR fail to become a thing. We’ve watched Facebook rebrand as Meta and spend billions of dollars investing in a “metaverse” no sane person wants a part of. Despite living through a pandemic that effectively locked us in our homes for years, we made it clear we don’t want to be sucked into some weird, half-baked virtual world. I’ll play Fortnite, sure, but that’s as metaverse as I wanna get. At this point I barely turn my camera on during Zoom meetings.
Apple’s marketing machine is swimming against a strong current. Bizarrely, Vision Pro’s price point could end up being its saving grace.
By charging $3,500 for a souped-up headset, Apple is telling us exactly what Vision Pro is. This isn’t a toy for normal people. It’s a dystopian device for a dystopian world. A world where poor people struggle through a recession and rich people find new and inventive ways to squander their wealth.
Hey Apple: Cool concept video, but you left out the fact that the workers who make the movies and TV you want us to watch on your $3,500 face-screen are on strike because you won’t give them a fair contract. Until you do, there won’t be much to see on Vision Pro! #BadApple pic.twitter.com/t1KkV0D9ie
— Adam Conover (@adamconover) June 6, 2023
Vision Pro isn’t an adequately priced smartphone. It isn’t an iPad Mini. In its press release Apple seemed determined to avoid the word “headset” instead referring to it constantly as a “spatial computer.” Either way, this isn’t a fun, disposable device, it’s a wildly expensive MacBook that costs 10s of thousands of dollars. Or a $17,000 gold Apple Watch like the one Kanye West used to wear.
Because of this, Vision Pro almost certainly hasn’t been designed to change the world the way the iPhone was. At this price it simply can’t. It’ll be a device for well-paid creatives at best, a status symbol for the mega-rich at worst.
Expectations – our expectations – are part of the problem. We’re on our screens, possibly ignoring our children like morons waiting for the next big thing. What piece of consumer tech will transform our lives like the smartphone did? There’s a large part of us that expects Apple to do this, since the iPhone was the catalyst that helped define how we currently interact with the world. But it’s fairly clear virtual reality or augmented reality will not be that thing. Vision Pro most certainly will not be that thing.
No, unfortunately Vision Pro is just another device that some people will buy and others won’t. And in a weird way, that’s okay. As long as you don’t linger on it for too long.
Which I won’t.