By Anand Parthasarathy
June 8 2023: Hardened technology trackers have learned from past experience that when it comes to those rare disruptive Apple launches, first impressions usually turn out to be wrong. No matter how outrageously priced and even underwhelming at first glance, a fiercely loyal public could quickly turn them into iconic ‘must-have’ personal technology devices
The iPhone was not the first smartphone in the market when Apple unveiled it in 2007. Yet an audacious premium asking price notwithstanding, it had enough compelling features to make it by far the most popular brand in North America with a cult following the world over – other dominated by Android devices
The market was already flooded with wrist wearables when Apple launched the Apple Watch in 2015 – but it had just the right combo of health-related features to make Apple premis throw away their hundred dollar smart watches for the Apple version which cost three to five times more.
VR+AR= Vision Pro
At the ongoing World Wide Developer Conference at its global headquarters in Cupertino, California (US), Apple's CEO Tim Cook has just unveiled what could end up as another market-disrupting device – a Mixed Reality (MR) ie Virtual Reality(VR) plus Augmented Reality (AR) headset – which as he quipped, you didn’t look at, but looked through.
But the asking price -- $ 3499, which is just shy of Rs 3 lakhs at today’s exchange and north of Rs 3.5 lakhs if prevalent customs duties are added -- caused a collective gasp/groan when Cook announced it, soon after he announced Vision Pro
Can this even be called a consumer device at this asking price? Most observers had written off virtual reality headsets as products of little interest outside enterprise training markets. The pioneer product launched in 2012, Oculus, was bought out by Facebook/Meta and now costs around $ 1000 in its latest, avatar Quest2.
Even in many less pricey variants, lay users found VR headsets to be bulky, inconvenient and a sure recipe for headaches after an hour or so of use.
But it’s never clever to underestimate Apple. As the phone and the watch have shown, the company has mastered the fine art of sitting back while rivals launch new product categories first and burn their fingers making mistakes about what the customer wants. Then profiting from this experience, Apple makes subtle corrections and then steps into the maidan with its own version.
Heralding Spatial Computing
Could this be true of Vision Pro which Apple offers, heralding a “new era of Spatial Computing, seamlessly blending digital content with the user’s physical space”? (Apple site for the Vision Pro)
By using lightweight aluminium, Apple has reduced the weight of Vision Pro and the few who got to try it so far ( it is not going to be available till early 2024) say the image -- thanks to a 23 million pixel screen -- is very sharp compared to anything available till now. It features 12 cameras – some trained at the wearer’s eyes and hands – so that one can navigate by using just eyes, voice and hands.
For example, when presented with a menu of all apps available – your email, Apple’s Safari browser, your notes, photos or a movie – all you need to do is move your eyes to an icon and the camera, sensing your eye movement and a tap of your hand, opens that app. The tool is called EyeSight.
Perhaps now is the time to ask: How many want to read their emails through a headset – raise your hands. No one?
Apple , not being dumb, knows this too – but it’s betting 3-5 years from now, this could be how people would work and play. As you walk on the road, reading your mail, the real world is fused in at 4k resolution, so you don’t bump into people ( they will dissolve around you). When you are face to face with people in the real world, one trick the Vision Pro does is to show your eyes from inside your headset so that you don’t look like a zombie.
Viewing 4K movies
Early reviewers are raving about the quality of movies viewed through the headset – you can make the image as large as you like and get the illusion it fills an entire wall of your room
The problem is, when it comes to Apple launches, it is difficult to tell reviewers from influencers – they all sound ecstatic.
With 2 onboard chips (one specially designed for Vision Pro) fuelling Vision OS, touted as the world’s first spatial operating system, the new Apple headset does a lot of number crunching – and requires you to carry a rechargeable battery that gives you 2 hours of usage – is this something customers will like to lug around?
Right now it is difficult to imagine too many people in India queuing up to buy a Rs 3 lakhs-plus Vision Pro headset when it becomes available – hopefully sometime in 2024 -- by far, the priciest Apple product to date. Even internationally, will it launch a new era of connected personal technology or will its price point make it another niche product for nerds? Meanwhile, there is still some tangible excitement here. Why?
Our lively startup ecosystem is already salivating at the opportunity thrown up by Vision Pro to create new apps and tools, fuelled by Vision OS.
That is probably Apple’s canny calculation. Said Tim Cook at the unveiling: "A new era of computers begins today. Just as the Mac introduced personal computing and the iPhone introduced mobile computing, the Apple Vision Pro introduces spatial computing. The Vision Pro is years ahead of and unlike anything created before… It enables incredible experiences for our users and exciting new possibilities for our developers." (italics ours).
Watch out for made-in-India apps that will bring new functionality to Vision Pro, hard on the heels of its availability. As they say in startup duniya: You don’t have to afford it, to innovate around it.
For illustrations see Image of the Day
This article has appeared in Swarajya