Source: Hedgehog Commune
On February 2, Pacific Time, the much-anticipated Vision Pro will officially launch in the North American market. The “era of spatial computing” according to Cook seems to be coming soon.
Since opening pre-orders on January 19, Apple has received more than 200,000 orders. This is still just a demand in the US market. In markets such as China, the purchase price of Vision Pro is raised in tens of thousands. On some trading platforms on the Chinese Internet, the price is even more than three times higher than the original price in North America. Countless domestic followers are clamoring about when it will be sold domestically, and many tech bloggers and enthusiasts have even flown directly to the US to buy.
The world is eagerly awaiting Vision Pro and wants to witness the magical experience brought by Apple's spatial computing device. On January 30, the ban on evaluation of Vision Pro was officially lifted, and a “VP whirlwind” was immediately set off on platforms such as Youtube and X. In addition to various self-media bloggers, professional media such as the tech media The Verge and Wall Street Journal also conducted in-depth evaluations of Vision Pro, showing everyone its strengths and weaknesses without dead ends.
But we're still confused: What kind of product is Vision Pro? Can it change the struggling XR industry? Has the “era of spatial computing” really arrived?
Vision Pro: Magic, until it is not
Vision Pro is indeed the best VR headset known in the world, and this is the answer all reviewers agree on.
With the Micro OLED display, 4K display, and powerful M2 chip and R1 chip, Vision Pro can achieve the strongest display effect on the market, and can achieve the most realistic results in terms of clarity, brightness, and color presentation. This also makes the AR (augmented reality) function that Apple wants to focus on unprecedentedly strong:
Almost all reviewers said that in terms of its ability to show the real world, Apple is much better than rivals such as the Quset 3. The “spatial computing” concept that Cook mentioned many times is truly figurative. When the virtual floating window floats in the real world displayed on the screen, the M2 chip, 12 cameras, and 5 sensors work, and you can almost think of everything in front of you as real.
You can even wear it to read a phone, read a book, or use a Macbook. The screen in front of you looks like a lens, and the R1 chip guarantees data transmission speed. With a delay of less than 12 ms, you can almost achieve the same experience as in the real world.
On the other hand, in the use of Vision Pro, auxiliary operating tools such as controllers have been completely abandoned. As shown in the promotional video, users can completely control the device with their eyes and hands: when your eyes are swept to the place you want to focus on or choose, you only need to use your finger to operate it, and you can grab and click on the virtual screen or virtual object in front of you.
With VisionOS, this headset becomes a computer placed in your field of view, just like an iPhone or iPad, except that you no longer touch the screen, but instead present everything in the reality you are in.
In the bloggers' videos, we saw the amazing effects of Vision Pro:
You can open multiple video screens and place them in different positions in the field of view. As long as you turn your eyes or head, you can see the vast virtual interface. You don't need multiple screens to watch N videos at the same time; you can have a Facetime conversation with family and friends directly within sight, and the virtual image floats in front of you, and the images in the sci-fi movie become reality.
You can use it as a Mac-like work tool. Not only can you type with a virtual keyboard, but you can also freely edit different work windows and drop annoying work messages directly to the side; when you're tired of the real world, you can also enter the virtual world, snow, forest, and lake with just one click. Under Vision Pro's powerful display, you're in the real world.
When you wear Vision Pro, the metaverse world in “Number One Player” and “Sword Art Online” doesn't seem far away. With just a slight movement of your eyes and fingers, an extremely realistic virtual world can shock you. This is also an amazing “magic” moment for everyone.
This is already the best result that can be achieved right now. It far surpasses similar competitors. Apple has indeed made the best headset device. However, once the conversation changed, many reviewers also bluntly stated that this product was not perfect.
The first is the display issue. Although the display effect is amazing, after careful testing by the reviewers, it was still possible to find that the display is distorted. Compared to the real world, its color rendering is still not realistic enough. Due to the goggle-style screen display, users can clearly see the black frame. When there is insufficient light, the screen's display effect will also be reduced. You may not be able to read the words on your phone or book clearly, and the sharpness will also be reduced as the noise reduction function is turned on.
This is even more evident when Facetime is used. Your virtual image will be blurry, low quality, false, etc., and it is difficult for users not to have a horror valley effect.
In terms of eye movement and gesture tracking, one frustrating fact is that although this interactive experience is amazing, it is inevitably exhausting after using it for a long time. Unlike in the real world, users must shift their gaze to a certain interface.
For example, when using a virtual keyboard, users must ensure that their eyes are aimed at the keys they want to touch. This means that “blind hitting”, which is common in the real world, is difficult to achieve. Gesture operations also have similar problems. When hands are not in sight, you cannot perform all kinds of clicking or grabbing operations, and in actual use of “shaking your head,” you must always pay attention to whether your hands are in sight.
VisionOS isn't perfect. Apart from the operating buttons being too small and too crowded, Vision Pro has very few apps, and it's not compatible with mainstream websites such as Netflix or Youtube, so there isn't enough content to be viewed. Currently, Vision Pro does not support downloading apps from the web, which means that many content browsing has to be done through the Safari browser, which is very inconvenient. There aren't enough games adapted to VisionOS. Coupled with exhausting eye tracking, some reviewers bluntly said the gaming experience wasn't very good.
The most fatal point is that the Vision Pro is far less lightweight than it looks. Although it is slightly lighter than devices such as the Quest Pro, the Vision Pro still weighs 600g-650g (measured by The Verge), which is equivalent to hanging a catty egg in front of you. Coupled with the Vision Pro's uneven weight settings and heavier front end, this is certainly a test of the user's neck strength.
The officially equipped double ring belt can relieve some pressure compared to the single ring belt, but it is still difficult to reduce the long-term burden of the device, not to mention that using a double ring belt is very unelegant — it may damage your hairstyle.
Also undermining the “sense of elegance” is the battery pack. According to official data, the battery capacity is 3,000 mAh, which also causes the Vision Pro to last only two and a half hours, and the battery cannot be disconnected from the power supply during this period.
Although it's not possible to play or work for a long time, this battery life is quite compatible with its weight: after two hours of wearing it, neither the battery nor your neck and bridge of the nose can withstand it.
The Verge gave Vision Pro a sharp review in its review article: Magic, until it's not — amazing until it's no longer amazing.
In addition to this, Vision Pro also has issues such as visible eyes showing people, poor photo shooting results, only connecting to a Mac, not being able to take screenshots, and not being able to interact with multiple people for the time being. This has left this star product shrouded in questions.
Some supporters believe that the Vision Pro is enough for people to place an order in terms of AR display, interactive operation, and maximum immersion, but the price of this device is really disappointing. 3,499 US dollars (about 25,000 yuan). Consumers who are myopic but don't want to wear contact lenses will also have to buy $99 Zeiss lenses.
The high price and “imperfect” experience work together in public opinion, but Apple doesn't seem to need to worry about whether it can be sold. After all, with the support of Apple's spirit, Vision Pro has already received more than 200,000 orders.
“More like a transition product”
For Apple CEO Cook, the hidden significance of Vision Pro is huge. In a press release officially announcing the launch date, Cook emphasized that with the introduction of Vision Pro, the “most advanced consumer electronics device,” the era of spatial computing is imminent.
But what does the era of spatial computing really mean? In Apple's vision, Vision Pro is not a product similar to VR headsets such as Quset 3 and Pico 4. The focus is MR (mixed reality). The Vision Pro knob that adjusts the level of virtual reality is a symbol. Apple doesn't want to immerse its users in an endless but suspended virtual world, but instead wants to port a two-dimensional operating system on computer screens to the real world.
“In the future, AR will become a phenomenon. When people use AR, it will eventually become a daily routine like three meals a day.” Just like Cook's previous judgment on XR technology, Vision Pro's main selling point is to port a mobile computer to the human eye. This is also the reason why people rarely talked about its VR features after the product was actually launched. Everyone is passionate about exploring the real world created by Vision Pro and experiencing the magical interactions it brings.
However, judging from current feedback, Vision Pro has MR capabilities, but it's still not good enough.
“From a technical point of view, it is still difficult for Apple to achieve complete MR. The technical route they follow is the VST technology route or VR plus.” Zhao Yu, co-founder of Youchen Xingyu, thinks. As a leading domestic XR technology company, based on years of research and development of MR technology and products, Youchen Xingyu's main business is to provide MR digital solutions for enterprises in various fields. From an industrial perspective, Zhao Yu gave a lot of professional insight into the Vision Pro product.
As can be seen from known data, Apple did use AR as the development direction of its XR technology. According to Bloomberg reports, Cook and Apple's product department did want to develop an AR glasses, and the desired effect was just like what Vision Pro is showing today, making it a productivity tool to achieve a high degree of integration between virtual and reality.
However, in the end, Apple chose to reverse the direction of VR headsets. Vision Pro's sci-fi “goggles” still cannot directly show the real world in front of the user. It is a screen disguised as a lens. Through the powerful computing power of the camera, sensor, and main control chip, the real world in front of the user is presented one-on-one on the screen, thus achieving the effect of AR.
The intuitive understanding of spatial computing is that the chip calculates the spatial depth of the real world in real time, so that users can ignore the virtual feeling of VR.
“Why do people feel dizzy when wearing VR headsets? Because of current technology, VR is still unable to present a real sense of depth, and the human brain has to take on the task of calculating the sense of space, and it is easy to get dizzy after using it for a long time.” Zhao Yu said. This is one of the technical gaps that VR devices have never been able to overcome. Judging from the current performance of Vision Pro, it can indeed be called the most powerful headset in the MR field at present, and the real world it presents is amazing enough.
But at the end of the day, it's nothing like the human eye.
During our communication with Zhao Yu, we experienced the MR device Hololens 2 released by Microsoft in 2019. The MR technology products developed by Youchen Xingyu are also mainly based on this hardware device. Unlike products such as Vision Pro and Quest 3, the MR solution chosen by Microsoft's HoloLens 2 allows me to wear it directly on my head without even taking off my glasses, then all kinds of virtual content are presented in front of my eyes through optical waveguide lenses. Unlike the full virtual world built on a headset, it is displayed in mixed reality.
Simply put, Apple and Meta use chip computing to reconstruct reality with the screen in front of them, while Microsoft creates holographic images in the real world. As a product released in '19, there is obviously a gap between the HoloLens 2 and Vision Pro in terms of computing power, but it has a great sense of space.
Imagine a virtually constructed house suspended on the ground in front of you. HoloLens 2 directly brings you a pair of holographic gloves. With these gloves, you can enlarge, move, or even disassemble the house and walk through the virtual wall.
All operations in the MR world can be done with both hands. If you want to open a cabinet in the house, you have to approach the cabinet and pull it open, and all of this happens in the real world.
Although there is a generation difference between the HoloLens 2 and Vision Pro in terms of time, the effects and operation methods they have shown are very similar:
Real world combined with virtual content; without a handle, the sensor can sense your eyes and hands for direct operation. The difference is that all of the interactions brought by Vision Pro actually take place in a virtual world, and behind the HoloLens 2 lens is actually a real world.
When Vision Pro was released, it did remind many followers in the XR industry of the HoloLens 2, but the difference between the two is obvious. Vision Pro's display effect is far superior to HoloLens 2, and it also has a stronger sense of science fiction. Not to mention the operating system, as a slightly “rough” device, the virtual world of HoloLens 2 is composed of holographic images, and there is a big gap with Vision Pro in terms of color display and clarity.
However, the advantages of the HoloLens 2 are also obvious. Compared to huge headsets, the glasses-style setup makes it have better performance in terms of lightness, heat dissipation, and battery life: the HoloLens 2 is lighter than almost all VR headsets on the market.
In terms of battery life, according to Zhao Yu, the HoloLens does not require an external battery pack like Vision Pro and can achieve two hours of continuous operation; in terms of multi-person interaction, thanks to the MR solution, people can also directly interact with other users with the naked eye and not be bothered by the horror valley effect brought about by virtual eyes and digital images.
However, these advantages were abandoned by Vision Pro in order to achieve “spatial computing,” and were also mainly criticized by the evaluators. The MR effect of this product is not perfect. First, virtual reality still has technical difficulties (such as blurred motion due to head movement, distorted display in low light, black frames around the field of view, etc.), and second, it is difficult for anyone to work or play for a long time with such a heavy device.
“So I think Vision Pro is still not the final form of an MR product; it's more like a transition product.” Zhao Yu said that in his opinion, the final form of Vision Pro should be similar to AR glasses. “The screen in front of Vision Pro should have variable light transmission, rather than showing the user the world 'photographed'.”
It's more like a deep combination of two devices, but unfortunately, we'll probably have to wait a long time to see the ultimate form of MR products.
On one side is the insurmountable spatial computation of VR headsets and the real world that cannot be displayed, and on the other, the HoloLens, which seems to have been forgotten by the market: According to Zhao Yu, in 2023, as an enterprise-oriented product, the HoloLens 2 will only be shipped in China, and the release of the HoloLens 3 is a long way off.
From this perspective, Vision Pro is probably one of the best products out there: at least on the consumer electronics side, many people will pay for it. Despite many trade-offs and compromises, this product still leaves users “amazed”.
But the high price and demand-side “false proposition” still bothers everyone. Can an imperfect Vision Pro solve all of this?
It still can't change the times
“After Vision Pro was released, in addition to all the negative reviews, I was even more concerned that some people questioned the real demand for MR products.” VR enthusiast Cheng Hao showed us a Vision Pro review video with the following comment: “It's enough to see that MR really doesn't have any application scenarios...”
It was a video about cooking with a Vision Pro. In the video, Wall Street Journal reporter Joanna Stern prepared a delicious meal for herself while wearing Vision Pro. Vision Pro did not experience any delays during the use of knives and kitchen utensils. Apart from being a bit heavy, users can smoothly cook through the virtual world displayed on the screen.
Interestingly, Vision Pro can help with cooking. Stern not only uses a virtual screen to place recipes in a corner of the kitchen, but also monitors cooking time in real time through a virtual timer suspended on the pot. In the video, she quipped, “Your eyes won't be so spicy that you shed tears when cutting onions.”
Using a headset to cook in reality is a very novel experience. The suspended timer also shows Apple's current spatial computing capabilities. But the question is, do people really need to use Vision Pro in cooking scenes?
“This may be a joke, but what I can see is that a lot of people are questioning the work scenario Vision Pro promotes, including myself.”
Sung Ho's concerns are also reflected in many review videos. In order not to use a virtual keyboard that is difficult to control, some reviewers chose to use the Vision Pro with an Apple Magic Keyboard and mouse. In order to maintain privacy, users also had to bring Airpods. In an evaluation video, when the hands of people around them appeared in the Vision Pro wearer's field of view, they also touched gestures, which also caused multiple people to face interference issues when used together.
Seen from this perspective, Vision Pro simply replaced a two-dimensional screen, but it didn't really help the work scene much.
“Vision Pro is also a consumer electronics product, mainly aimed at the C-end. At most, it provides light office application scenarios, but it is still a long way from actual B-end production.” Zhao Yu said that after watching the relevant review video, he also gave his own judgment: “Everyone separates virtual content and apps from real life; they just stop at meetings, watching movies, and using apps.”
Using Vision Pro as a productivity tool is probably still a false proposition.
But that doesn't mean the birth of Vision Pro is meaningless. “It's a bit disappointing, but if I get a chance, I'll support it, maybe the next product will be more perfect.” Cheng Hao expressed his expectations to the Hedgehog Commune. “Currently, many problems can be overcome. For example, in terms of visual presentation, Apple will definitely achieve better results in the future. Problems with portability, comfort, and control and interaction are only a matter of time.”
As the strongest software company in the world, the lack of content and interaction terminals is not the biggest problem for Apple. Stronger chips and algorithms can solve everything; all Apple needs to consider is how to balance performance and hardware.
When Apple enters the market, it means
As a practitioner, Zhao Yu also believes that Apple's entry into the market has positive significance for the entire industry. “Apple may not be the strongest innovator, but it has a very strong ability to integrate innovative technology. They are integrators of mature technology.”
Apple is not the pioneer of MR technology, sensor technology that tracks eye movements, and display technology with high restoration in the direction of VST technology, but the new Vision Pro has defeated rivals including Meta, HTC, SONY, and Pico.
As for the problems that Vision Pro faces, it is a high wall in front of the entire XR industry. Apple wants to become a “wall breaker,” but it will still take time.
More importantly, its driving significance for the entire industry.
Unlike Apple's consumer electronics path, Microsoft HoloLens 2 has hoped to break through from the B-side since its inception. MR technology companies like Youchen Xingyu also hope to implement MR technology on the industrial side, thereby spreading to the consumer side, thus making it an innovative technology that frees up productivity.
Zhao Yu showed us the application of MR technology in different fields: in the industrial field, it can be deeply integrated with robotics and other technologies, and can actually be applied to maintenance and construction scenarios through analysis of virtual stereoscopic images; in the field of construction, it can replace traditional design drawings and make design implementation more efficient; in the medical field, holographic images composed of CT data are easier for doctors to make judgments than two-dimensional images; in the field of education, MR can be combined with actual teaching more than VR, so that XR teaching no longer floats in the air.
However, the problem is that whether on the consumer side or the enterprise side, the perception of MR is still not strong enough. People are unable to appreciate the actual effects of MR technology, and they still use it as a “toy” for entertainment consumption.
The importance of Apple was also highlighted. “Apple's potential is very high. It can lead people to pay attention to this industry, and at the same time use devices such as Vision Pro to create a new model through the integration of existing mature technology, thus bringing a completely different experience to everyone.” Zhao Yu said.
Although Apple is not keen on using devices in the B-side industry, just as the iPad is used in the B-side scenario, Vision Pro may also play a role in the industrial side in the future.
On the other hand, Apple's brand appeal and product strength can make everyone pay for it. “No manufacturer dares to sell such an expensive headset to the C-end, but users will pay for Vision Pro, while also opening up the entire headphone market.” The price of Vision Pro is basically the same as the price of Hololens 2. At such a high price, it can reach pre-sales of 200,000 or more, and Apple's brand appeal is amazing.
From a certain point of view, although Vision Pro “came back flat after being amazing,” Apple is able to lead the entire industry in terms of establishing consumption habits, broadening the market, and establishing a perfect supply chain.
The real problems facing the XR industry still need to be solved. “The biggest problem in the VR industry right now is the scalability of technology.” According to Zhao Yu, current VR manufacturers have always wanted to pursue the realism of display, interactivity with hand and eye movement, low latency, etc., but the scalability of technology has reached a bottleneck. The spatial computing that Apple emphasizes also wants to break through this bottleneck.
“We've been talking about VR for many years, and virtual is already very powerful, but 'reality' is really a problem that can't be solved.” Cheng Hao shared the same sentiment, “So we have expectations and hope Apple can solve this problem.”
But the 'reality' is very realistic. If we want to change the entire XR industry, we may have to hope for Vision Pro 2 or a few more generations.