Today, Apple finally unveiled the Vision Pro, its brand new “space computer.” It’s nice! This is cutting edge! At $3500, it’s also…extremely expensive!
But beyond jokes and memes, there was a moment in Apple’s new launch trailer for the Vision Pro headset that almost made my stomach turn. A moment that felt borderline dystopian.
This happened about halfway through the video above. Father stands awkwardly in the kitchen. He was using the Vision Pro headset to check his email when his daughter – dressed to play soccer with goalkeeper gloves – ran out. She rolls a ball to her father, who, still wearing the headphones, kind of absent-mindedly kicks the ball back to her.
As a father who has spent a depressing time trying to get rid of my kids so I could spend more time glued to an Apple device, it was relatable. I also felt sick.
But it’s not designed to feel unpleasant. It should have been heartwarming. Designed to allay concerns about the Vision Pro and VR headsets in general. See, they say, the dream is possible! You i can keep living and communicating with your family while wearing giant, expensive headphones on your face! You will not turn into a hollowed-out shell of a man! Vision Pro I will not immerses you in a virtual reality hellscape devoid of human interaction!
And it may not happen! But that doesn’t matter. Independently from how works and if works, for the past 10 years human beings have been telling the big brains of Silicon Valley loudly and repeatedly that do not they want to put computers on their face.
There was Google Glass, a spectacularly failed device that was so wrong that those involved in its creation made Twitter threads explaining why it was wrong. A piece of technology so maligned that – collectively – we’ve decided to actively harass those who wear it. We called them “glass holes”.
Then there’s VR, a technology so sci-fi that its rise felt inevitable, but it wasn’t. Technical limitations and a small install base have made VR the domain of niche hobbyists who mostly use it to play Beat Saber two or three times a year. That’s pretty much it.
I should know I was that person. I in the morning this person. I backed the first Oculus Rift on Kickstarter. I’ll never forget the giddy joy I felt when I unboxed the development kit for the first time. It felt like the future, but months later it was already gathering dust. Just like every VR headset I’ve acquired since, including – most recently – the PSVR2 headset I got a few months ago. I have used it twice since its launch in February this year.
Again, even when people do want to put tech on their face, they inevitably get bored of putting tech on their face.
Over the past decade, we’ve watched VR fail to become a thing. We’ve watched Facebook rebrand as Meta and spend billions of dollars investing in a “metaverse” that no normal person wants to be a part of. Even though we lived through a pandemic that practically locked us in our homes for years, we made it clear that we didn’t want to be sucked into some weird, half-baked virtual world. I’ll play Fortnite of course, but it’s the metauniverse I want to get. At this point, I hardly ever turn on my camera during Zoom meetings.
Apple’s marketing machine is swimming against a strong current. Oddly enough, the price of the Vision Pro could prove to be a saving grace.
By charging $3,500 for an advanced headset, Apple is telling us exactly what the Vision Pro is. This is not a toy for normal people. It’s a dystopian device for a dystopian world. A world where the poor struggle with recession and the rich find new and inventive ways to squander their wealth.
The Vision Pro is not a reasonably priced smartphone. It’s not an iPad Mini. In its press release, Apple seemed determined to avoid the word “headset” instead of consistently referring to it as a “space computer.” Either way, this isn’t a fun disposable device, this is an extremely expensive MacBook that costs tens of thousands of dollars. Or a $17,000 gold Apple Watch like the one Kanye West wore.
As such, the Vision Pro was almost certainly not designed to change the world the way the iPhone was. At this price, it just can’t. At best, it will be a device for well-paid creatives, and at worst, a status symbol for the mega-rich.
Expectations – ours expectations – are part of the problem. We’re on our screens, probably ignoring our kids like idiots, waiting for the next big thing. What piece of consumer technology will transform our lives like the smartphone did? There are a lot of us who expect Apple to do this, as the iPhone was the catalyst that helped define how we currently interact with the world. But it’s pretty clear that virtual reality or augmented reality will no be that thing. The Vision Pro certainly won’t be that thing.
No, unfortunately the Vision Pro is just another device that some people will buy and others won’t. And in a weird way, that’s good. As long as you don’t dwell on it too long.
Which I won’t do.