Apple announced yesterday its $3,499 Vision Pro head-set. Among all the flashy demonstrations, I was left wondering… What does “pro” mean in Apple’s new headset, exactly? Apple’s Vision Pro headset is not aimed at the same high-level professionals as the iMac Pro or MacBook Pro.
Since the MacBook Pro of 2006, this is the first time Apple has launched a “pro device” without an entry-level counterpart. Apple Vision Pro is a similar surprise to the MacBook Pro. It was announced at the end an Apple keynote. The original MacBook Pro, however, was clearly designed for professionals.
Apple announced the MacBook Pro alongside an Intel powered iMac, which was aimed at consumers and featured a built in iSight Camera, DVD burning capability, and a bunch of digital lifestyle applications. MacBook Pro’s main purpose was to justify the switch from PowerPC to Intel, and in particular performance per watt. Steve Jobs even demonstrated SPECint benchmarks of CPU integer processing power on stage during the announcement. Apple did not use benchmarks to justify the “pro” label for the Vision Pro.
It’s likely because “pro” has lost all meaning in the industry, since the early MacBook Pro days. Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro was the first to use “pro” monikers. OnePlus, Huawei and Xiaomi were among those who did so before. Then, former senior journalist Chaim Gartenberg, (damn I miss him) asked at the time what “pro” meant for a smartphone. Now, nearly four years on, we’re still asking the same question about a new headset.
Apple has not announced an Apple Vision headset that does not have the “pro” designation. This definition isn’t applicable (yet) because Apple hasn’t released a regular Apple Vision without the “pro”. Apple Vision Pro doesn’t target high-level creative professionals the way that the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro did in the past. Apple did not show any content creation for the Vision Pro. It was more focused on content consumption.
The headset was able to drag and dropped 3D content, but no one created it. A brief demo was shown, using a virtual keypad to send a text message. However, the “pro” interactions that are expected from devices with traditional keyboards and mice were not demonstrated.
It looks like you will need a physical mouse and keyboard to achieve this precise level of control with the Vision Pro. Developers will have to adapt their applications for this new input, just like they did with the iPad. Apple showed how to use Bluetooth devices like the Magic Trackpad or Magic Keyboard to type long emails and fill out spreadsheets. You can connect remotely to a Mac and turn it into a private and portable 4K display, which runs alongside apps designed for the Vision Pro headset.
Allessandra Mcginnis, product manager of Apple Vision Pro during Apple’s WWDC keynote 2023, said, “This powerful combination makes Apple Vision Pro ideal for the office, or when you’re remote working.” We did not see how powerful the capabilities were or how well voice, eye and hand gestures allowed you to control and manipulate documents. Apple instead showed a 10-second demonstration of team collaboration from the headset’s perspective. It was a static file, and there was no way to interact or create the document. What is perfect for the office about this? We’re not sure yet.
Video calling is one area in which the Apple Vision Pro appears to excel. FaceTime is slick with its virtual app sharing, room-filling interface and the ability to expand as more people join a call. Microsoft and Meta are working on immersive meeting. But, once again, the focus is on consumption rather than creation. Apple acknowledged this. McGinnis said that this feature is useful for many things, including reviewing a presentation or sharing photos and video. It’s still a lot of work. But what happens if you want to edit a presentation while reviewing it? We don’t really know.
Apple’s rest of the presentation was focused on home and consumer use, such as using the headset to create giant TV screens or virtual monitors to watch movies or to play games. Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the Vision Pro headset would not be limited by the display. It sounds like a great idea to have a triple-monitor set up with me when I travel, but that’s essentially what VR headsets do.
Apple’s iPhone 5s is a great device. It’s immersive and has a good text-legibility. But at $3,499 it’s expensive compared to other VR headsets which can create virtual TV screens and giant workspaces.
Some demonstrations went beyond consumption. Apple Vision Pro’s redesigned Djay App looks to offer some impressive interactions unlike anything else Apple has demonstrated. Djay on Apple Vision Pro is one of the most interactive demos.
Microsoft was quick to announce its support for Apple Vision Pro headset. This allowed Apple to demonstrate Excel, Word and Teams on the headset. Adobe Lightroom was also shown to work on the Vision Pro, and it could be controlled by eye and hand movements. These big names will encourage other developers to adapt their iPad and iPhone applications for Apple’s new VR headset.
Apple’s headset is powered by the same operating system, visionOS (which runs on iPadOS or iOS), that powers the Vision Pro. Susan Prescott said, “This means that hundreds of thousands iPad and iPhone applications will be available to Vision Pro at launch,” during Apple’s WWDC keynote. Apple’s “spatial” computing will depend on how well developers can adapt it.
Apple has struggled to adapt its iPad for creative purposes over the years. This is even after blurred lines with the iPad Pro, a hybrid tablet and laptop that combines the two. Apple’s iPad Pro announcement of 2015 was dominated by demonstrations of productivity apps such as Office and Photoshop. The focus was on professionals working. Nearly 10 years after the iPad Pro announcement, I still use a laptop to do my work because iPad apps and OS haven’t caught up with macOS and Windows in terms of multitasking and creativity.
Apple may not even know why the Vision Pro is a pro. Developers will have to prove it over time. It was announced at WWDC. Without their help, we are looking at a professional device that consumes content for “prosumers” but has the potential to become so much more.