Apple's Vision PROblem

Apple’s Immersive Video problem
On Thursday Apple debuted its first immersive video since the Vision Pro launched, a five-minute-long compilation of highlights from the MLS Cup playoffs late last year. Without even seeing the vid…

Earlier this week, Apple finally – and I do mean finally, it took them nearly a full two months to launch anything new – released their first new bit of content for the Vision Pro. The promised MLS playoff highlight reel. It's a whole five minutes long.

I haven't actually seen the footage yet because I'm on the road at the moment. And as much as I might like to bring the Vision Pro with me on a trip, it's about item number 50 I would actually bring on a 20 item packing list. The thing is so comically large – especially with Apple's own "space egg" carrying case – that there's just no way to fit it in any sort of regular carry on bag. Even a checked bag is a stretch. You may as well be packing a bowling ball. Anyway, while I haven't watched the video yet, Jason Snell has, and I certainly trust his assessment here:

Now, having seen the video, I have a few more observations. The first is that I don’t think the new video is very good. Oh, sure, the individual shots can be impressive. Being that close to professional athletes doing their thing is stunning, and being in a giant stadium thrumming with fan energy is pretty awesome.

The problem is that, based on how Apple and MLS built the video, it’s not actually immersive.

As you might expect from the runtime, the video is a highlight package, with lots of quick cuts. Video’s all about quick cuts. I’m a child of the ’80s; music videos ingrained the value of the quick cut at a formative age.

But immersive video doesn’t work with quick cuts, I don’t think. Several times during the MLS highlights video, my head was turned in one direction, taking advantage of the 180-degree immersive space to watch something happening off to my left or right… only for the vantage point to change to a different perspective. Now I was staring at nothing. It would take a few seconds for me to scan my surroundings and re-orient—often times a delay that led me to miss the highlight I was meant to be viewing.

I've noticed something similar on a much smaller scale with my own "immersive videos" (that is, 3D videos I shoot with the iPhone to be viewed in the Vision Pro). Your natural instinct is to move around to try to capture all the angles of your subjects in 3D. But that actually makes for a much worse viewing experience than if you just stand still and let the camera(s) do the 3D work for you. This isn't the same thing as cutting, of course. But in practice, it's a similar problem as you're breaking the immersive plane, as it were.

To be immersed, you need to sort of trick your brain into thinking that what you're watching is real, in real time. But cutting around obviously breaks that illusion. As Snell notes, the original batch of immersive videos had cuts as well, but they were much more deliberate. Quick cuts are "like hitting a speed bump," as he puts it.

Everything about this is weird for Apple. First and foremost, I get that they may not be ready to do real-time sporting event coverage in immersive 3D yet, but it sure feels like we're nowhere close to that being a reality. I mean again, this is five minutes long. The MLS Cup ended on December 9 – it took them nearly four months to shoot, edit, and ship a five-minute long video.

I'm sure it's incredibly hard to do well, but the videos that shipped with the device are awesome. We just need about 10x more of them. And they, like this, just feel like demo placeholders for the real content. When is that real content – if not feature-length, at least, say, 30 minutes? – going to come?

Also, Apple needs to be releasing at least one new immersive video experience a week. Not once every two months. The Vision Pro is already challenged from a value proposition coming out of the gate. And those of us who have one are challenged to use it regularly. Apple needs to seed the market with content, and to keep re-seeding it, to keep us, the early word-of-mouth folks, engaged. They've dropped the ball. Or in soccer/football parlance: they've missed the free kick.

Behold: The Apple Television
A revolutionary new productivity tool. A truly amazing gaming device. And an insanely great content viewer. These were not three separate products,1 but instead, the promise of one product: the Vision Pro. Unfortunately, at least for now, it sure feels like only the last of those experiences is the