December 8, 2023

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What distinguishes the Vision Pro headset from Apple?

What distinguishes the Vision Pro headset from Apple?

Yesterday Apple announced the $3,499 Vision Pro headset, and among all the flashy demos, it got me thinking… what does “pro” actually mean for Apple’s new headset? While the iMac Pro, Mac Pro, and MacBook Pro have been aimed at high-end professionals in the past, the audience for the Apple Vision Pro is less clear.

It’s one of the first times we’ve seen Apple release a “professional” device without an entry-level equivalent since the MacBook Pro in 2006. And like the MacBook Pro, the Apple Vision Pro surprisingly had “something else” at the end of an Apple keynote. But it’s clear that the original MacBook Pro was designed primarily for professionals in a way that the Vision Pro is not.

The MacBook Pro was one of the first Macs to switch to Intel, and it was announced alongside the Intel-powered iMac that targeted more at consumers with its built-in iSight camera, DVD burning capabilities, and a suite of digital lifestyle apps. The MacBook Pro was about justifying the switch to Intel for the sake of power and, in particular, performance-per-watt. Steve Jobs stood on stage and also showed SPECint benchmarks for CPU integer processing power during the announcement. Apple has not used any benchmarks to justify its “pro” rating on the Vision Pro.

Steve Jobs introduced the first MacBook Pro at Macworld 2006.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This is probably because the “pro” designation has long since lost its meaning across the industry since the early days of the MacBook Pro. OnePlus, Huawei, Xiaomi, and others started using “professional” monikers on phones before Apple decided to do the same with the iPhone 11 Pro in 2019. Back then, edge Senior Reporter Chaim Gartenberg (damn, I miss that nerd) asked what it meant for a phone to be “pro,” and lo and behold, we’re asking the same thing nearly four years later about a new headset.

While the “pro” designation on iPhones has come to mean a better camera and screen, Apple hasn’t announced a regular Apple Vision headset without “pro,” so that definition doesn’t apply here (yet). And Apple Vision Pro clearly doesn’t go after high-end creative professionals in the same way that the MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, and iMac Pro have in the past, either. In fact, Apple didn’t show much content creation at all for the Vision Pro — it was mostly focused on content consumption, even in the action parts of its demos.

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We’ve seen the ability to drag and drop 3D content from Messages, but we haven’t seen people create that 3D content inside the headset. There was a brief demo shown using a virtual keyboard to send a message, but not the complex kind of “professional” interactions to manipulate text, documents, and image using only your voice, hands, and eyes that we’ve come to expect from professional devices with a traditional mouse and keyboard attached.

Virtual keyboard and apps on the Apple Vision Pro Headset.
Image: Apple

In fact, it looks like you’ll need a physical keyboard and mouse for this exact kind of control on the Vision Pro. Because, like the iPad, developers will need to adapt their apps to this new entry. Apple demonstrated the ability to use Bluetooth accessories like the Magic Trackpad and Magic Keyboard when you want to write long emails or fill in information in a spreadsheet. You can even remotely connect to your Mac display and make it a 4K portable and private display in the headset, working together with apps designed for the Vision Pro headset.

“This powerful combination of capabilities makes Apple Vision Pro ideal for the office or when you’re working remotely,” said Alessandra McGuinness, product manager for Apple Vision Pro, during Apple’s WWDC 2023 keynote. We haven’t really seen how powerful these capabilities are or how much voice, eye, and hand gestures let you control and manipulate documents. Instead, Apple showed a 10-second demo of the team collaborating on a document from the headphone wearer’s point of view. But it was just a static document, and we haven’t seen how you can interact with or create a document. What is it Perfect for the office on this? We don’t really know yet.

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One area where it looks like the Apple Vision Pro will excel is in video calling. FaceTime looks sleek, with the app’s default sharing and room-filling interface that expands as life-sized people join the call. It’s not too different from what Microsoft and Meta are working on for immersive meetings, but again, it’s all about consumption, not creativity. Even Apple admitted that. “This is useful for many activities, such as reviewing a presentation, sharing photos and videos, or watching a movie together,” McGuinness said. This still works, but what happens when you’re reviewing a presentation and want to make edits? Again, we don’t know.

FaceTime business calls look great when you’re traveling.
Image: Apple

The rest of Apple’s presentation focused on home and consumer uses such as using a headset to create giant virtual screens or TV screens for watching movies or playing games. “With the Vision Pro, you are no longer limited to a screen,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said when introducing the unnamed VR headset. The idea of ​​having a triple screen for mobile with me while traveling sounds cool and a killer feature for many pros, but it’s also very much the same thing VR headsets have been doing for years now.

I don’t doubt Apple may have allowed text clarity here and made this immersive environment more compelling for use as a mobile workstation, but at $3,499, that’s a lot compared to many VR headsets that can also create giant virtual workspaces and TV screens for you.

Some of the demonstrations went beyond consumption. Redesigned Djay application As for the Apple Vision Pro, it looks like it will offer some great interactivity unlike anything else Apple has offered.

One of the most interactive demos was the Djay app on the Apple Vision Pro.
Image: Apple

Microsoft was also quick to pledge its support for the Apple Vision Pro headset, enabling Apple to briefly show Excel, Word, and Teams on the headset. Adobe Lightroom also runs on Vision Pro and has been controlled with eyes and hand gestures. Having these big names on board will undoubtedly prompt other developers to eagerly adapt their iPad and iPhone apps to Apple’s new headphones.

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Apple’s headset uses the same software frameworks available on iPadOS and iOS for VisionOS, the operating system that powers the Vision Pro headset. “This means hundreds of thousands of iPad and iPhone apps will be available on Vision Pro at launch,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations, during WWDC 2023. How well developers can adapt them is key to whether Apple’s “spatial computing” can replace or just help our existing “professional” tools.

We’ve seen Apple struggle to adapt the iPad to Creation over the years, even after the company blurred the lines with the iPad Pro — a hybrid device much like the Surface Pro that blends laptop and tablet. Apple spent most of its time during its iPad Pro announcement in 2015 showcasing productivity apps like Office and Photoshop, with an emphasis on professionals getting work done. Almost 10 years later, I still bring a laptop when I want to get work done because the iPad’s apps and operating system still haven’t kept up with macOS or Windows for multitasking and creativity.

I’m not convinced Apple even knows why the Vision Pro is so professional, leaving it up to the developers to make the case over time. (It was unveiled at WWDC, after all.) Because without their help, what we’re looking at is a professional content consumption device for so-called consumers who have the potential to be so much more.