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Fashionably late or missed the main event? Apple finally joins the VR party!

Late to the party perhaps, but determined not to be out-done, Apple have unveiled their ‘groundbreaking’ Vision Pro Headset. Apple wants this highly anticipated release to be a pivotal moment in XR (extended reality), but will Vision Pro be the new hero of the virtual world, or will it be confined to the history books as just hype… Join Paul Hannah as he investigates: 

In true Apple fashion, there were a lot of large, impressive adjectives accompanying the launch, from ‘seamlessly merges the digital world with our physical reality’ to ‘deliver extraordinary experiences’. Now all of this sounds great, and don’t get us wrong, we at Shelton Fleming love new technology, especially when it’s a new venture from such a heavyweight tech company. But before we chuck a load on the company credit card, we need to dig a little deeper. We know that digital is the future in the events industry & technology is the path to getting there, but only if it meets certain criteria, which we like to call ‘Fusionomics’.

Find out more about Fusionomics here!

The Good: A promising outlook 

When it comes to the aesthetics of the Apple Vision Pro, it truly stands out with its sleek and elegant design resembling a pair of stylish ski goggles (far removed from the eyesore that was Google Glass). But it’s not just about the looks. 

One remarkable feature that caught our attention is what we tech enthusiasts like to call “reverse passthrough” now packaged as “EyeSight” by Apple. This innovative implementation brings a human touch to VR, making it less isolating for those around us. For example, when someone is with you, the headset displays your eyes in an optical-correct manner, fostering a more natural and human relationship. This thoughtful design element is truly remarkable and enhances the social aspects of VR experiences. 

The trailer showcased the headset and its users in an incredibly polished manner. Not only did the headset itself exude coolness, but the people wearing it looked incredibly stylish and sophisticated. 

For those who might have missed it, you can watch the trailer below:

Apple has always excelled in user experience (UX), and the launch of Vision Pro is no exception. Although we haven’t seen much about the headset yet, the initial interactions appear to be thoughtfully designed. The combination of eye, hand and voice interactions creates a natural and intuitive interface for users. What really stood out is how Apple seamlessly integrated eye tracking with hand micro-gestures. This approach eliminates the need to constantly raise your arms, which can be tiring in the long run. Instead, you can keep your hands at rest and perform micro-gestures to interact with objects you’re looking at. Eyes provide context, identifying the interaction target, while the gestures handle the most common actions like moving windows or zooming in/out. This blend of eye tracking and micro movement ensures a comfortable and effortless user experience. 

In terms of security and convenience, Apple has incorporated iris scanning for identification, eliminating the need to type passwords each time you put on the headset. Additionally, voice integration allows users to interact with Siri, just as they do on other Apple devices. What’s more, the synchronisation of activities between the Vision Pro and other apple devices adds a level of seamless connectivity. One exciting integration showcased during the trailer was the ability to send iMessages with 3D models that can be extracted and viewed in augmented reality (AR) by the recipient. Think of the possibilities you could have by incorporating this piece of tech when telling your brand story? This clever use of XR features, demonstrates the potential for immersive and interactive messaging experiences. 

A feature we thought was cool was the ability to capture and relive memories in 3D! With the headset on, you can record your surroundings and later revisit those moments in an immersive manner. Whilst this idea has gotten us excited, we do have to ask, how practical is it really? Wearing a headset at social events may not be the most comfortable or socially acceptable option. However, it’s highly likely that Apple will make this feature compatible with iPhones, allowing users to record 3D memories not only with the headset but also with the camera app on their phones, which already incorporate LiDAR technology. This way, users can capture memories discreetly and enjoy them through the headset when desired. 

Then there’s the exciting possibilities for content. We saw examples of how Disney content could look like inside the Vision Pro. Whilst most of the content demonstrated was in 2D, such as watching cartoons on a big screen, there were notable highlights. Imagine watching sports replays from a bird’s-eye view on your coffee table, or beloved characters like Mickey Mouse jumping around your house, creating an immersive and unique perspective. 

The Bad: Room for improvement 

But before we start sounding like a paid ad for Apple’s Vision Pro, we need to talk about a few things… 

Whilst the concept of capturing 3D memories with the headset is undoubtedly cool, we must admit that we have yet to see any mind-blowing use cases for this feature. The ability to record and relive moments in 3D is intriguing, but its practical applications are yet to be fully explored. And furthermore, screen replacement, one of the touted functionalities, is not entirely novel. We have seen similar capabilities in VR for quite some time. 

It is important to note that the headset’s battery life is limited to just 2 hours, this is similar to devices like the Quest Pro and HoloLens 2 (which have been out in the market for some time now), however Apple have optimised resolution for text readability, but before you get too excited, you should know, there seems to be a lack of ground-breaking features beyond that.  

The Vision Pro is primarily marketed as a screen substitution or a device that could potentially replace a users Mac or iPad. The emphasis appears to be on surrounding yourself with 2D apps. Whilst this approach is easily understandable and useful for a wide range of users, it may be underwhelming when compared to the capabilities of other XR headsets. 

Perhaps one of the most significant drawbacks of the headset is its high price tag, relative to the features it offers. Many of the functionalities provided by the headset can already be found in more affordable alternatives like the Quest. 

The Ugly: Design concerns and content positioning 

The fact that Apple’s Vision Pro will not be available until next year is disappointing. For customers in the UK, Europe and even beyond, it means a wait until mid to late 2024 to get their hands on this highly anticipated headset. This extended timeline may dampen the enthusiasm of those eagerly awaiting its release. 

From a design standpoint, while the front design of the headset appears aesthetically pleasing, other aspects of the device leave something to be desired. The rear part of the headset is noticeably large and bulky, and upon closer inspection, it appears to be composed of three different parts with distinct colours. This design choice may not align with the sleek and minimalist aesthetic typically associated with Apple products. Additionally, the absence of a top strap raises concerns about the comfort factor and overall fit of the headset. This aspect may be a point of scepticism for potential users. 

When it comes to content, Apple has strategically positioned the Vision Pro around productivity, entertainment, and media. However, gaming, which constitutes a significant customer base in the XR industry, seems to have taken a back seat in Apple’s approach. Although Unity was highlighted as the engine of choice for the headset, the overall focus on gaming seems relatively limited compared to other aspects of the device’s capabilities. 

One notable feature of the Vision Pro is the creation of scanned avatars that contribute to the ‘eyesight’ effect and enhance facetime meetings. However, these avatars seem to fall into the uncanny valley, a phenomenon, where humanoid representations appear almost but not quite realistic (too good to be true). In this particular area, it’s worth noting that Meta, holds an advantage with their own Codec 2 avatars, which offer a more polished and lifelike experience. 

A notable absence from the Vision Pro is the inclusion of controllers. While this can be viewed as a significant advantage in terms of eliminating barriers to entry, it also presents a challenge. In instances where a controller is necessary, users will be required to pair a standard Bluetooth controller with the headset. This limitation means that certain spatial use cases that rely on controller inputs will not be fully supported. 

What does Shelton Fleming really think and why does it matter to you? 

The launch of the Vision Pro headset signifies the company’s endorsement of XR as the next technological platform – even if they refer to it a “spatial computing”, and not XR or VR or AR or any of the R’s. While the Metaverse market may have experienced a fade in early 2023, the concept of ‘bringing people together’ and enhancing communication within the virtual realm remains a central focus. Spatial computing has become Apple’s tagline for this new technology, just as the metaverse concept was Meta’s way of giving context to the vision of the future they see. So far Apples picture seems focused on Spatial computing as a solo experience, whereas Metas vision – the metaverse” is communicated as bringing people together – it will be interesting to see which idea wins out.  

It serves as a solid first step for Apple’s XR journey, but it is important to recognise that it will undergo numerous iterations before achieving mainstream adoption. One notable challenge is the price point, which is prohibitive for many potential users. However, it is worth noting that even the iPhone had a slow start before becoming revolutionary devices that shaped their respective markets. Or to bring you much more closely to the topic at hand. Remember when the Oculus came out and the £300+ price mark already felt steep? 

The road to mainstream adoption of XR has just begun, and it will require time and multiple iterations of devices to refine the technology and make it more accessible to a wider audience. 

At Shelton Fleming we are excited to see a future where spatial computing becomes an integral part of the experiential events industry, unlocking new possibilities for communication, collaboration, and human interaction in the virtual realm. 

Why does this matter to you? 

Because it’s just another development in the audience engagement world, opening up new opportunities for you to be bigger, bolder and more creative at your next event. 

Meet the author

This blog post was written by Paul Hannah, Head of Innovation at Shelton Fleming, where his passion for technology drives his work. With a deep understanding of emerging tech trends, Paul explores new solutions that create meaningful and memorable experiences that engage audiences. His expertise in XR and dedication to innovation make him a trusted source of insights in the rapidly evolving tech landscape. Paul’s enthusiasm for technology extends beyond his professional life, as he actively stays up to date on the latest advancements and shares his knowledge with the wider team. Through his work, Paul aims to inspire others to embrace the transformative power of technology and shape a future where it enhances our lives and events. 

Hear more from Paul here:

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