I tried out the Vision Pro

This morning I went down to the Apple store at opening so I could do a demo. I was 50/50 on whether it'd be just me, or a line around the block. An hour ahead of opening there was one other guy there. At quarter-til, when they started taking names, 11 people.

The 20 Apple employees applauded and cheered as we entered the store. It was very surreal.

TL;DR lots of good, some underwhelming. More compelling than I expected. Some hurdles might go away after an adjustment period. Not sold at $3,500, but if they release a non-Pro for say $1,500 that'll be pretty tempting.

Display unit

Display unit

My demo unit, served up like sushi

Physically, wearing it feels fine. I stopped even noticing I had it on after a minute or two. I tried both headbands, strongly preferred the single-loop one. Two-loop felt harder to adjust correctly, less secure, and less comfortable. Weight didn't bother me for the ~15 minute demo I got, hardly noticeable.

They stuck my glasses into a machine to measure the prescription, then selected from the ~100 sets of lenses they had on-hand. My prescription is mild, and I felt I could see clearly while using the device. A guy I met in line has a -8 prescription. Apple had lenses on hand that were either a match, or close enough. He had a good demo experience, but after the demo he found the transition back to his polycarbonate glasses jarring, since they have strong lensing effects.

After calibration (look at dots and click them) it dropped me straight into AR. It feels good, though imperfect. Significant motion blur if I turn my head while looking across the room. But holding still or moving slowly, I have no problem seeing everything around me. I don't feel isolated from my environment at all. Pass-through is noticeably dimmer than IRL. And foveated vision makes the scene seem less than completely clear in my peripheral vision. But I don't think I'd need to remove my device for anything unless I was simply done using it.

There was an Apple employee seated beside me running my demo. I found it easy to chat back and forth with him, and basically forgot we were separated by a screen and cameras (except when immersive mode was on, more on that below). It just felt like a normal conversation.

Graphics overlaid on top of pass-through are rock-steady. They stayed exactly in place, no matter how much I rocked or shook my head. Aesthetically, overlaid graphics integrated naturally into the scene. Felt like they were supposed to be there, like a natural part of my vision (as much as anything artificial can).

Positioning windows around me worked well, felt fine. I could place them in X/Y/Z space, and e.g. overlap behavior felt intuitive, even though they intersected at angles (in an arc centered on me). The device is smart about mixing windows into the environment. Initially a window was blocking my view of the guy running my demo. I moved it to the background and device started drawing the window behind the guy. I could also move windows forward to do the equivalent of sitting closer to the screen.

Pinch controls worked alright, a little finicky. For the first minute or so, I was naturally resting my off-hand in my lap in a pose that the Vision Pro mistook for pinching, but I quickly adjusted to stop accidentally clicking everything I saw. Pinch to click, pinch+drag to scroll, pinch both hands and pull/push apart to zoom. A few times the pinch didn't catch, unclear if it's because I need practice, because I pinched too soon, or if it's a technology thing.

The devices has two buttons: one for photo/video (did not use), and a crown that you spin to control immersiveness, and press as the back button, or to pull up the app list if everything is closed.

The whole focus-follows-eyes felt natural for me. But I went in ready, having seen reviews that people were accidentally looking away from whatever they wanted to click. But it was awkward, as there's a noticeable pause between when I saw something and when it became clickable. Unsure if this is a design choice or not (i.e., to keep the display from going nuts with focus events as you look around). Made it feel slow to interact with things, and I kept trying to click before it was ready. I'd probably get used to the timing in a day or so of use. I did learn that my eye flits around more than I realized.

The device tries to be smart about auto showing+hiding buttons and window controls, but I found it confusing. The handle to reposition windows, close things, change volume, whatever, was often not present when I wanted it and I was never sure what I was supposed to do to see it. Felt like sometimes it would appear if I stared where it was supposed to be, sometimes required a click, etc. But if I clicked, sometimes that did something else. Could just be a learning curve. Not enough time with the device to tell if its behavior was consistent in all situations, or if it was truly doing different things at different times.

They walked me through reading a web page, black text on white background with some images. It was rendered crisply, no pixelation. For (outdated) perspective, on my Oculus Rift I can barely read system menus. On the Vision Pro, I'm not sure I could see pixels at all. Foveation aside, I had no trouble reading anything, and I'll bet if I spent much time in an immersive scene I could nearly forget I wasn't physically there.

Yet it felt challenging to read the web page. The foveated rendering left me unable to pull information from my periphery, and I didn't realize how much I relied on that. I could only “see” things my eyes were pointed directly at. That made it hard to skim, or keep track of where I was on the page. I kinda feel like I had to read slowly and deliberately. As someone becomes proficient at reading, they stop reading letters and start skimming word shapes. The experience made me feel like I rely on skimming sentence shapes, too, and I couldn't do that – I could only really see the word I was looking at. Maybe I'd get used to this, I don't know. The actual field of vision was fine (how far around me the scene wraps); no worse than a motorcycle helmet, maybe better. First impression is I'd clearly rather do a workday with a laptop than with a Vision Pro, mostly because of foveation while reading text.

And again, the foveation was noticeable when looking around the room I was in. Everything else felt effortless to look at, and looked great. Apps, photos, videos, system UI.

Foveated rendering
This is what things looked like. From Tobii.

They had some 3D recordings, one from an iPhone and I think another from a Vision Pro, and some stuff that resembled National Geographic footage. The NatGeo-style stuff was 180° wrap-around, the rest was a flat plane like a normal phone video, only... 3D-ified. I felt I was present in the scenes in a way that's truly hard to describe. Closest thing is when I played the Oculus game Lone Echo, free-floating around a space station. Like I wasn't watching a video, I was filming the video, in-person. I can see this being very compelling for personal moments, and if the tech ever becomes widespread, I'd easily see it replacing 2D feature films (even without wrap-around view).

One scene, sitting on a lake shore during the rain, I cranked up to full-immersive and it felt incredibly peaceful. I would have just sat there in that scene relaxing for as long as I could, if they'd let me. Very therapeudic. Reminds me of when I had solitude at sunset at White Sands.

Immersive mode works great. Shut out everything around me, made the display my whole world. Passing through people's faces did not work well. I could barely see the guy running the demo, like some ghostly phantasm in the shadows. I tried turning down the immersive knob, but it just started letting in background details without making the guy beside me any clearer, until I was basically back to pass-through.

The knob for pass-through vs immersive has a lot of positions between the two, but I didn't see any point to the in-between. It felt like all knob positions were basically-pass-through or basically-immersive. I didn't feel enough of a gradual change to matter.

They didn't put the dinosaur app in the demo script. The guy I met ignored the script and went and found it, said it totally blew him away.

They did not have me do any photo/video capture.

Sound is very good, to the extent I could evaluate in that environment. It doesn't do noise-canceling, but it felt that way because when stuff played it felt like the Apple store's sounds disappeared. Partially the volume was set a bit high, but even after turning it down, it still felt like the headset was all I was listening to.

The light visor kept falling off in my hands when I held the device. It's only attached with a weak magnet (magsafe-like), and it disconnected any time I held the headset there. I'd probably still disconnect the visor all the time, even once I got used to holding the device by the bezel.

There were one or two moments when I tugged the battery cable trying to look around at 360 scenes, Battery pack was on the seat beside me, but the cable wound up running down my back where it was pressed into the backrest, so it didn't move freely. Probably not a problem most of the time, but I don't think it's practical to deliberately position it somewhere safe.

They didn't set up anyone's Persona for demos, so I couldn't see what the fake-eyeballs thing looked like from the outside.

I didn't try out typing, but I sure wouldn't like to do much of it with the pinch gestures. If I connected a keyboard it'd be fine.

I don't see this replacing a laptop, at least not until the foveating stuff is better. Even then, maybe not. It's supplemental. But it could easily become most of my leisure computing. I'd almost certainly prefer watching movies this way rather than using my laptop, TV, or a theater (if I'm not watching socially). And it would be incredible if scenes were filmed in that immersive mode, where it felt like I was really there. I've watched 3D movies and it's just not the same.

Seeing other people using the Vision did not give me a weird dystopian creepy feeling. Of course, they were all very animated, talking with their demo handlers and being excited to try new things. Might be different if they go all dead-eyed zombie WALL·E passenger. But there's a glimmer of hope that it won't be stigmatized like Google Glass was. Doesn't look dorky enough to be a problem either, but I'm a lot less sensitive to that aesthetic than others, so take that with a grain of salt.