TECH

What is the value of Apple Vision Pro spatial computing?

Apple Vision Pro iPad mini – both products had difficult software launches

Apple Vision Pro initially attracted a lot of attention. The company's brief demonstrations in stores and a selection of exciting content clips on Apple TV+ are eye-catching and impressive. But can this new device create a truly useful new platform for augmented reality applications, and does the world even need new Apple's “spatial computing”?

Apple has a pretty solid track record of standing out among its competitors with bold new product introductions, and both the iPhone and Apple Watch launched at prices significantly higher than many similar products that already existed.

Despite much controversy from experts who believed that Apple set prices too high for ordinary users, both products significantly outperformed their competitors. Premium editions have increased peak prices upward since their introduction.

Other new products, such as the iPad and AirPods, were not only much easier to use, but were also significantly cheaper than other existing alternatives. Consumers were not always aware of this. When reporting on the new $159 AirPods in 2016, The Verge had to explain that “the price has already put a lot of people off, but […] they're actually really competitive.”

Apple Vision Pro is somewhere in the middle. Its price is much higher than typical video game VR visors, higher than Meta's premium niche Quest Pro, and about the same as Microsoft's enterprise-focused HoloLens.

Given that VR devices have largely remained a novelty or toy and have seen some widespread use but certainly not become blockbusters, is there any real value to consumers or even prosumers from high quality, amazingly engineered Apple , but the rather expensive Vision Pro and its new immersive desktop concept for spatial computing?

Well, isn't it spatial?

What is “spatial computing” anyway? This question was asked by the Washington Post last Friday under the headline: “Apple Vision Pro is all about spatial computing. Nobody knows what this means.”

And to sell the question further, it was desperately paired with a subtitle that said, “Do you want a technology that can't define itself?”

In an era when serious and legendary investigative journalists are being fired, Shira Ovide leisurely explored the idea that no one knows what spatial computing is in a few paragraphs that don't really say anything.

Two hours later, the same article published another article, written by Michael Liedtke, offering a detailed explanation of spatial computing provided by a “longtime industry consultant.”

According to this source, the answer to this convoluted mystery “involves elements of augmented reality, or AR, and artificial intelligence, or AI,” and will “allow devices to understand the world in a way they have never been able to before.”

The Post article even predicted that “eventually every interface—be it a car or a watch—will become a spatial computing device,” before Liedtke referenced his research on motion sensors that flush toilets, like “a primitive form of spatial computing”.

I was wondering how these word salad chefs still have jobs.

But more importantly, did anyone get confused when they saw Apple's presentation on spatial computing and wonder, even for a moment, what that phrase might mean? “Spatial” simply refers to things in the space around you, right?

Spatial Audio Harbinger

The concept of “spatial” is something that consumers have already been thinking about. Almost three years ago, Apple introduced Spatial Audio as a new feature in Apple Music. Released in the summer of 2021, Apple positioned it quite simply as “music coming from all around you and sounding incredible.”

Behind the scenes, Apple's new Spatial Audio technology used Dolby Atmos to create atmospheric audio experiences that require music labels to remix their catalogs to create new, higher quality music, updated to convey an accurate stereo soundstage. beyond the simple status quo of two-channel stereo audio.

Apple Music distributed musicians' updated content and spatially played it for users using the extraordinary new decoding provided by its custom chips, which were already used in the latest iPhones, iPads and Macs, as well as Apple's AirPods and Beats headphones H1. or W1 chips.

Showcasing the valuable new features of its latest hardware offerings with the help of content providers creating new apps based on their technology is the best thing Apple has ever done. Apple Music subscribers received the content update “for free” because they bought new Apple hardware to enjoy it.

Apple Music Spatial Audio

Vision Pro takes the concept of spatial audio and brings it to a visual user interface. It's not just your soundscape that surrounds you and guides you, but also all your content windows, your games, your videos, photos and panoramas.

Spatial inflation

Spatial audio was a solution that no one really asked for. Other music services felt that what consumers really wanted was Tidal's high-quality music encoding, Spotify's content curation, or perhaps exclusive podcasts. However, both companies are struggling to survive and do little for musicians and the industry: Tidal pays them a little more for the meager plays they collect, and Spotify pays them a lot less for a lot more plays.

Although Apple has put a lot of marketing emphasis on Spatial Audio over the past three years, you obviously won't have to pay anything extra for it. Not so in the new world of spatial computing, where a player costs over $3,500 and you have to find new 3D movies and purchase new spatial applications specifically built for the Vision Pro.

What is the value of explicitly adopting this new concept?

If you listen to many critics, the answer is that the Vision Pro is a lot like the iPad. It doesn't do what they think Apple should do, and they're upset that it may never be able to deliver exactly what they expected.

They really think it should cost half as much, be half the size, and do a lot of things Apple has never talked about. This is an evergreen criticism of Apple.

As I noted in Monday's column, Vision Pro's most obvious value proposition is the immersive, immersive video and immersive entertainment of a massive virtual television that surrounds you and transports you directly into the environment: from your own panoramas and 3D -pictures. to commercial immersive 3D films.

Wearing the device can be tiring. Will people actually use it to do real productive work? Even before I tried it on, I confidently predicted that “Vision Pro will not replace a Mac to perform the same tasks.”

What about using Vision Pro on your Mac?

Windows for your Mac

Often, even a very good TV will make a bad display for your Mac. Televisions are designed and mounted on the wall so that they can be viewed from a distance during leisure time.

The features that make a display a great choice for productivity and serious computing are completely different. Even a 4K TV on the wall across the room delivers effective resolution and overall clarity that's underwhelming if you're used to a Retina Display Mac.

I was surprised to find that using the Vision Pro as a Mac display with Screen Mirroring is phenomenal. In typical Apple fashion, it just works. If you look at your MacBook with Vision Pro on the same Wi-Fi network, it will display a virtual Connect button that will allow you to establish a session. Connecting a desktop Mac isn't too difficult either.

My 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro by default creates a virtual display positioned just above the computer, with a higher visible resolution of 2560×1440. This provides a larger desktop. It looks at least as crisp and bright as my built-in screen, but never has any issues with reflections or glare.

For comparison, my MacBook M1's “default resolution” is 1440×900, but I run it at 1680×1050 to have a larger desktop. Technically, it can display its user interface on the built-in display with a native resolution of 2560×1600, but the result is tiny text that is almost impossible to read.

Apple appears to have been the first PC maker to realize that higher resolution isn't always better, and that creating a beautiful, sharp Retina display is an easier sell than simply adding more pixels.

Although my MacBook Pro scales down its UI to look Retina perfect, the Vision Pro's optics are so high resolution that it can paint my Mac's screen sharing window so that it looks crisp, vibrant, vibrant, and provides a large desktop area without making the text too small for me to read.

Mac Screen Sharing gives you a virtual display anywhere

Plus, instead of being 13 inches, it appears to be practically 46 inches in the default window position, and it can easily be expanded beyond 140 inches (3.5 meters) while maintaining Retina clarity.

To get even more desktop space, you can also manage a single Mac virtual display at 3940×2160 resolution (also known as 4K), which Apple Screen Mirroring labels as “low resolution.” The text seems a little soft around the edges to me.

Vision Pro brings you a huge, stunningly clear, flat display floating right behind the darkened MacBook screen. When the screen is off, the MacBook's processor controls this virtual display. Just like watching Apple TV+ movies and playing Apple Music videos, you use Vision Pro as a giant virtual TV panel.

Unlike a real screen, it does not reflect ambient light in the room. You don't have to carry anything heavy or big, you don't have to run power cables, and you don't have to connect anything.

Mac Screen Mirroring on Vision Pro takes the idea of ​​a physical dock and delivers wirelessly and virtually one convenient, huge screen with more real estate than you have on a MacBook.

Because it works without regard to light or glare in the environment, you can even use it outdoors in bright light, where being productive with your laptop might be difficult.

With Vision Pro, you can carry a light, thin MacBook with you, but open it in the office, hotel, car, airport terminal or airplane — or almost anywhere except driving a car, obviously — and virtually unfold a large screen that you can place comfortably anywhere. No one else can see what you're working on, and if you go into AirPod Pro, they won't hear anything either.

I expected Mac screen mirroring to be of little use. But after I started doing it, I really liked it.

Perhaps in the future Apple will add the ability to transform the Mac desktop so that it appears as a curved screen that wraps around you, or gives you more than one screen. Now it’s just a flat plane that can be placed anywhere, even on the ceiling.

That big screen on your Mac is a standard Vision Pro window that you can expand, move, and close in the usual ways using your eyes and fingers. But when your MacBook is in front of you, you can type on its keyboard and move the Mac cursor using the trackpad. Nothing to learn.

This seems very useful and valuable for many travelers who want to get work done, especially for business people who want to stay productive in the hotel or between meetings, where it would be nice to have a large display that can be comfortably looked at without hunching over a laptop and looking down. With Vision Pro, you can sit up straight and look forward ergonomically.

The future of television meets Mac and iOS

The view of your Mac on Vision Pro remains a single window that acts just like an external monitor, except it can be very huge if you want. This means that all of your Mac apps are overlapping windows within that traditional desktop metaphor that has defined the Mac since 1984.

But Vision Pro spatial computing isn't just a big virtual screen for your Mac. It can also create many additional virtual screens on its own, each of which is essentially a giant iPad window. Taken together, this is spatial computing: screens anywhere, without the physical constraints of physical display hardware.

As I noted in the previous segment, Apple's “future of television” presented here finally breaks television away from the limited glass screen that inherently defines the experience. Instead of looking at a screen, your vision is surrounded by the screen.

In addition to Apple's built-in support for Mac screen sharing, you can also access games and apps via Windows PC mirroring using a pair of third-party apps: Moonlight (formerly Limelight), an open-source implementation of the protocol NVIDIA GameStream. , and LizardByte Sunshine running on your PC.

OneCast Remote Game for Xbox

You can also stream console games from your Xbox or PlayStation using apps designed for iPad, including OneCast and MirrorPlay, respectively.

Expect a more in-depth article from the rest of the AppleInsider team on streaming games from your PC very soon.

Apple and the bitmapped display

When Steve Jobs introduced original iPhone, he criticized existing smartphone designs for devoting so much of their face to a plethora of buttons: number and directional keys on the most basic models, or rows of full-fledged physical alphabetic keyboards popularized by Blackberry, Nokia, Treo. and Windows Mobile.

These physical keys were considered necessary at the time, but Jobs said the solution Apple came to was to remove them all and replace them with a raster display that could function as a keyboard and then redraw itself into a different view. show the entire document, or movie, or play a game. The virtual keys could even be reconfigured to display other languages, special keys, emojis, or anything else the user desired.

Apple replaced buttons with a raster display

Jobs emphasized that this raster display has historically been key to Apple's innovation moves. If you can imagine something, you can depict it in pixels on a raster display.

As touchscreen technology has matured, the iPhone X has finally allowed Apple to even get rid of the last physical Home button that defined the faces of previous iPhones and replace all of its functionality with gestures on an even larger, bezel-less device. display of raster pixels.

Bigger is not always better

The iPhone and iPad continue to get better and better bigger, but at some point it becomes too big to easily carry and use. In my personal experience, I found Apple's Plus size iPhone to be too big for my tastes. However, after using one of them, I began to suffer from pain in my shoulder and arm.

After some tinkering, I decided that its large display was not only too big for my pants pockets, but it was also changing the way I used the phone.

For years I have deliberately sat upright at a fairly ergonomic desk to do most Mac tasks, browsing, writing and other tasks, and have also used my iPhone to take calls, play games, access email and perform other small tasks on your tiny mobile phone. display. But with the advent of the iPhone 6 Plus, I found myself lounging at odd angles, hunched over its big screen, and taking much longer to do more browsing, shopping, videos, and other things that were once “laptop-at-the-desk” tasks.

I decided that this non-ergonomic shift was the cause of my problems. Sure enough, soon after I switched to a standard-sized iPhone and started doing most of my computer work at my desk, the pain went away.

The same pain occurs when trying to carry a laptop that is too large and heavy. Anyone over 30 needs to understand that while your giant laptop screen looks really nice and productive, you'll have to break your back to carry something that big.

That is why Apple always goes beyond the norm – — literally from a MacBook Air — produce light, thin machines, even as the tech media demanded that Apple instead produce replacements with big, fat desktop computers with lots of different ports, “dongleless” and, until recently, disk drives.

MacBook Air was introduced from inside the envelope in 2008.

The market has spoken, and it clearly wants to see Apple's vision for light and thin MacBooks. Almost all laptops now look as much like a MacBook as possible.

The engineering challenge remains: how to realize the capabilities of a larger number of raster pixels without making it heavier or physically larger?

Huge without mass

Vision Pro is essentially the best raster display that Apple has ever released. And it's not just a screen that surrounds you; it's a raster screen that can be literally anything, like the first graphical Mac desktop and its keyless iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch screens.

What's new, of course, is that Vision Pro puts all of its pixels in the field of view, so you can only see them. This is basic VR. What's new is that Apple also captures your surroundings and renders them in those pixels, composing its graphics on top and overlaying your hands on them. This means that you have a reality that can be completely virtual or just partially augmented, or somewhere in between.

In addition to acting as an incredibly large TV and huge display for your Mac, you can also create new virtual iPad window displays and install them anywhere you can watch. Plus, along with full document-style windows, you can also have virtual plates with 3D models to explore a structure or object as if it were floating in your world, populated by whatever huge virtual displays you want.

One interesting implementation of Apple's support for USDZ 3D models can be explored in the Red Bull TV app. In addition to various sports-related videos, you can view models of several race track locations as a 3D model that can be freely manipulated in the air.

JigSpace

Another Vision Pro game, JigSpace, lets you view and interact with 3D models of spatial content, and create presentations to communicate complex ideas visually in space. .

Standing on the frameworks of giants

Over the past few years, Apple has been demonstrating new capabilities at WWDC, from ARKit to Reality Composer for working with 3D objects tied to the space of our world. Many people weren't convinced of the enormous value of AR, especially on the iPhone. Ultimately, Apple did all this work for Vision Pro.

In typical Apple fashion, the company was simply making pre-production work available on iPhone and iPad early on and giving its developers a chance to get a taste of AR and the world of spatial computing before Vision Pro was released.

Other additional OS enhancements, from Accessible features to Continuity, Keychain, iCloud and Apple Pay, also add value to Vision Pro. This is a “1.0 release”, but it started many years ago and built on a huge amount of work already completed.

Vision Pro is the next big step forward.

Mixed Mac with giant iPad

For users who If you want to do tasks that you can do on an iPad, Vision Pro can act as a virtual world in which you can have as many full-screen iPad apps as you want, moving between them rather than switching between apps on one iPad, all limited by limited glass physics.

If you have a MacBook, you can also add its capabilities to your virtual iPad world. What's especially cool is that they work so well together thanks to Continuity. Type the Mac Application command, then drag your cursor outside the Mac window, and you can use your MacBook's trackpad to control and select items in the Vision Pro world.

Apple has already implemented and refined this Continuity integration in the real world, so it works flawlessly in Vision Pro.

Continuity controls on displays

Move your Mac cursor over the Vision Pro app next to it and the arrow turns into a touchscreen-sized dot, so you there is no need to consciously think about the transition from point-and-click to look-and-gesture.

A Mac window is still a Mac window, so you can't make choices, and hand gestures have no effect on Mac windows. To move your Mac, you focus on its window bar and move it with your hands, just like any other Vision Pro controls.

Keeping your Mac and its apps in screen sharing mode keeps your Mac world intact and comfortable where it is. Close the Vision Pro shared window and the environment will reappear on your Mac without any real changes. There is no retraining curve at all.

Typing and selecting with a look

Main windows Vision Pro's apps continue to behave like standalone iPads, except they can get pretty much as big as you want, or at least to a reasonable extent.

Although typing long text using “look and gesture” on the virtual keyboard is impractical, I found that editing documents and entering short notes was quite easy. Additionally, Siri and Dictation work very well on the Vision Pro and feel more powerful and sophisticated than I expected.

You can also connect a recently used Bluetooth keyboard or trackpad. If you're on a Mac, its physical keyboard works very easily, both in Mac apps and anywhere

My initial skepticism about how much time you're willing to spend on Mac stuff in Vision Pro may be misguided. Of course, there is a limit to how long you can comfortably wear the Vision Pro on your face.

After marathon training, I am glad that the fresh air hit my eyes and I felt relief from the contact of the pad with my forehead. I didn't think I'd write an article about this when I have a MacBook. But I did it and I liked it.

When used with a Mac, Vision Pro is a virtual giant monitor around which you can place as many large Continuity iPads as you like. Alone, it's just as productive with an external keyboard. But even on its own, it's pretty easy to do Mac-like editing tasks — perhaps even more so than on a typical iOS device because you have a vast canvas that allows you to arrange app windows around you.

On a physical iOS device, your apps typically take up the entire screen, requiring you to swipe between them. In this new world of spatial computing, iOS feels like it's being upgraded to a futuristic version of the 2024 Macintosh.

A futuristic version of the 2024 Macintosh desktop

In Vision Pro, I encountered some of the annoying text selection issues I often encounter when working with documents . my phone. Thanks to the large virtual display, it's fairly easy to flick your finger, double-tap to select the text of the document you're viewing, and then expand the selection by looking at its end point and moving it with your hand. Vision feels much more accurate than trying to highlight text with relatively thick fingertips on a small glass screen.

That being said, if you're working on a text document, your eyes are constantly selecting elements, and you may inadvertently gesture something that will have significant and destructive results. If your hands aren't on the keyboard, you'll have to think extra about how you might change the document if you're not careful.

You should also think about other people's hands. The nearest person's gestures may be interpreted as your own, especially if the Vision Pro does not have a clear view of both of your hands. Even sitting alone and reading a long block of text, you may unintentionally move your hand in a way that causes you to scroll quickly and lose your space.

Looks like it would be useful to be able to pause gesture input controls to prevent accidental — or malicious — breaks.

I was so comfortable typing, pointing, and dictating on my huge virtual screen that it was initially surprising that my giant window disappeared when I took down the Vision Pro. However, there is a neurological reason for this.

Objects in the world of spatial computing Vision Pro seem very real. This is your reality when you have it turned on.

Productivity anywhere

Apple mainly describes the Vision Pro as being used in the living room, kitchen, or regular office. But the portability of the device and its ability to act as a huge secondary display or multiple large applications that you can access simultaneously as if they were independent screens — Apple Spatial Computing Definition — it actually seems like a very useful and attractive virtual studio or office that you can place almost anywhere.

While home theater and entertainment are fun, using the Vision Pro as a portable office seems like an obvious business use case. Buying a large TV for $3,500 is well within the reach of many wealthy people, but perhaps a large group of Vision Pro buyers will consist of road workers, commuters, office workers and people working from home who want private office space they can afford . customize as you wish.

It's priced more like a high-end laptop, making it a strong corporate selling point, as well as appealing to creatives and entrepreneurs who want a personal workspace they can take with them anywhere without needing to special effort to deploy on site for work.

Early adopters among influencers create absurdist skits using Vision Pro to make them funny or generate interest. In fact, it usually makes sense to use Vision Pro wherever you feel comfortable and safe to open your laptop.

Yes, on the plane. In the city metro, where any kind of madness can happen by chance? Probably no.

There are also places where you might want to use your laptop but won't be able to see the screen well or won't be comfortable with other people seeing what you're working on. From brightly lit rooms to a public lobby or your seat on an airplane, Vision Pro allows you to be productive or entertained without any glare.

I went up to the roof and enjoyed the sun for a while while I wrote and worked on documents. Ambient lighting isn't really an issue. Even in the sun, the light seal works well. From time to time I could see a light artifact that, oddly enough, came from the back of the orchestra area.

First player get ready: a neighbor sent me a video on my roof

Conversely, in almost complete darkness, sometimes a light artifact from the lens appears, which may be reflection of your eye. Sometimes it helps to brighten up the room or background environment (essentially the desktop wallpaper you can choose behind the floating windows).

I wouldn't recommend working in direct sunlight as I did it for a very long time. Even iPhones are more sensitive to the sun than we are, and the Vision Pro is fragile and expensive.

Of course, it must also remain dry. Even if it could be made waterproof — and this is not true at all – — The strap, lightweight seal, and other components don't like to get wet, and will obviously be uncomfortable to keep on your face when wet or wet.

The biggest performance limitation in Apple's evolving world of spatial computing is that wearing the Vision Pro can ruin your hair or turn your face red after prolonged use. But the more I use it, the more practically useful I find it.

Creative productivity

Beyond typical office productivity work, Vision Pro's spatial computing is also well suited for creative work. Job. It's not just a huge selection of existing iPad apps, but a new way to experience real devices and controls. A great example is Algoriddim with a new version of djay for Vision Pro.

Algoriddim's immersive DJ experience

Apple Design Award-winning DJ software quickly embraces new Apple technology. The company just announced a new integration with Apple Music, and its new Vision Pro app takes virtual DJ decks and puts them in a realistic space.

Instead of playing on the flat glass of an iPad, you can experience the feel of real hardware. I'm looking forward to getting more experience with this new spatial interface.

Algoriddim's Karim Morsi described his experience with the new Vision Pro, writing in an email that “for an application like djay, it has opened up possibilities that were previously unimaginable.

“What struck me most as a developer was that for the first time the device allowed us to move from the functional to the experimental aspects of the art form, that is, not only giving users the tools to become DJs, but also allowing them to experience first-hand what it is looks like a DJ's job. This is a major paradigm shift in product design and development.”

Another creative spatial experience available for the Vision Pro is Moog's Animoog Galaxy. It allows you to physically interact with the virtual synthesizer using hand gestures and create your own performances. you can share.

Animoog Galaxy allows you to synthesize manually

This experience shows the enormous potential of Vision Pro, which could become another frontier for Apple computing platforms, offering a real-life look into the virtual world of spatial computing. Of course, in addition to these all-new productivity and creativity features, Vision Pro also lets you run most of your existing iPad programs, placing them around you the way you want.

Spatial Value

Is this value enough for you to buy your own Vision Pro? Well, first keep in mind that this device is tightly connected to you. It's not as tightly tied to you as your Apple Watch or iPhone, but trying to share it is currently limited to offering a friend what is essentially a quick browsing session.

It is not multi-user like Mac. It also requires customization since everyone's head and vision are different.

If you're comfortable buying one for yourself as a primary user, it's wise to consider whether you can really afford a $4,000 device with AppleCare. It's tempting to fund this, but keep in mind that this is the first version. Look at the success Apple has had with subsequent versions of its new products.

I would like to see Apple introduce additional headset mounting options designed to make long-term use more comfortable. I don't think the limited battery pack is really an issue because if you want to use it for a long session, you can connect it to USB-C via the battery pack.

My initial experience was mesmerizing and wonderful. I'm also a little surprised to see how useful it really is, providing not only a virtual workspace, but also a personal creative zone that can be customized to suit your individual preferences.

Apple Vision Pro spatial computing is not a half-finished idea in beta testing. It's already here and ready to go.

If you can afford it, this taste of the future offers not only exciting entertainment, but also a productive environment that seems ideal for Apple's creative, entrepreneurial, mobile and business customers.

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