The first thought I had, as I put on the Apple Vision Pro headset, was that I was somehow going to fail at virtual reality. For 20 minutes I’d watched as people with appointments ahead of me at the Apple store pinched the air, interacting with invisible stimuli. They looked ridiculous in the manner of mature adults trying to adopt new technology – all right, Grandma – which triggered my second, even more geriatric thought: what if there was a fire while you were in one of these things and you didn’t notice and burned to death?

In fact, the most startling thing about the release of Apple’s new virtual reality headset in the US last week was the nationwide scramble to book appointments for a demo, and with it, the opportunity to spend almost $4,000. The Vision Pro won’t be available in the rest of the world for some time and, while Apple hasn’t released sales figures, pre-orders were said to be somewhere between 160,000 and 180,000 during the first pre-order weekend.

At my local store, in a relatively tourist-free part of New York, the Apple associate fitting my headset told me they were selling roughly 200 Vision Pros a day, a good proportion of them to foreign visitors. “Imagine what they’re doing at the Fifth Avenue store,” he said, and asked me to remove my glasses so that – OK, this is quite cool – he could put them in a machine that would read the prescription and adjust the Vision Pro’s settings accordingly.

The advent of VR and “spatial computing” is part of a Philip K Dick-style future that, to most of us I suspect, still seems thoroughly absurd. I hadn’t even heard the term spatial computing before turning up at the store on Monday; it means the overlay of computer elements – desktop tabs and icons – on the physical world, mimicking the effect of an internalised operating system. Once the headset was on, I could see the “reality” of the Apple store before me, while a bank of apps lined up in my peripheral vision. To open one, I had only to glance in its direction, triggering vision activation, then air-click by pinching my fingers. There’s no getting around the feeling this provokes; oh yeah, I thought, I’m the man.

Publicity around the release of the Vision Pro has been predictably unhinged. For the benefit of those outside the US, no one who isn’t making a TikTok is wandering the streets with this thing on their head, or using it while driving a car. (Although, there are enough people staging Vision Pro stunts for transport officials this week to issue a warning.) For a start, it’s heavy. I can’t imagine wearing it all day for work or even for a two-hour movie. The Vision Pro is being marketed as a productivity tool as much as an entertainment one, but until it miniaturises, it seems to me it will continue to occupy the status of gimmick. Which brings us to a second issue around usage. Does anyone really want to invest in VR so they can more fully inhabit their spreadsheet?

As the technology normalises and improves, this resistance will probably erode and we will become as dependent on checking messages with a flick of the eye as we are at present on our watches and phones. And some of the entertainment stuff is hard to resist. Flicking and pinching open the photo feature, the Apple store disappeared and I “stood” on the coast of Oregon, fully immersed in an alternative reality. From there, I went into a dinosaur simulation that, my children informed me afterwards while doubled up with laughter, made me do mad gestures in the air as a dinosaur shoved its face into mine and saliva dripped from its teeth. “Whoa, so cool,” I said, which is another thing this technology does to you – yanks you instantly back to adolescence.

You have to be 13 to try on the Vision Pro at an Apple store, but of course there are no rules once you get home. The New York Post reported “disappointment” among users this week on discovering there’s no porn feature in the Vision Pro universe. (Good luck holding that line). There is, however, something called spatial photos and videos, which allows users to effectively inhabit a memory with full, 3D immersion. All I could think as I watched the demo birthday party unfold was how painful this verisimilitude might be – and how addictive – to those grieving; a lotus-eaters-type scenario one would never, ever want to leave.

As it is, the price point of the Vision Pro is so high that for most of us, it won’t be an issue, although when Apple stores across the world start offering demos, it is worth having a go for the entertainment value of what is, to my mind, the headset’s most arresting feature: the size of the gap between how you think you look when you’re using one (Neo in The Matrix), and how you actually look (someone playing blind man’s buff).

Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist

QOSHE - Think Apple’s Vision Pro headset makes you look like Neo in The Matrix? Sorry, you so don’t - Emma Brockes
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Think Apple’s Vision Pro headset makes you look like Neo in The Matrix? Sorry, you so don’t

15 6
08.02.2024

The first thought I had, as I put on the Apple Vision Pro headset, was that I was somehow going to fail at virtual reality. For 20 minutes I’d watched as people with appointments ahead of me at the Apple store pinched the air, interacting with invisible stimuli. They looked ridiculous in the manner of mature adults trying to adopt new technology – all right, Grandma – which triggered my second, even more geriatric thought: what if there was a fire while you were in one of these things and you didn’t notice and burned to death?

In fact, the most startling thing about the release of Apple’s new virtual reality headset in the US last week was the nationwide scramble to book appointments for a demo, and with it, the opportunity to spend almost $4,000. The Vision Pro won’t be available in the rest of the world for some time and, while Apple hasn’t released sales figures, pre-orders were said to be somewhere between 160,000 and 180,000 during the first pre-order weekend.

At my local store, in a relatively tourist-free part of New York, the Apple associate fitting my headset told me they were selling roughly 200 Vision Pros a day, a good proportion of them to foreign visitors.........

© The Guardian


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