Let's Face It

Let's Face It

Happy Vision Pro Week to those who celebrate. The device ships on Friday.1 But we can expect the first official reviews to drop tomorrow. Those will be an interesting read for sure. Normally, reviews of Apple products are entirely predictable. This is not a knock on anyone who does such things – and I used to for many years – it's because Apple products are, for the most part, that good.2 You can critique on the margins, but they're mostly best-in-class machines.

But this launch is all sorts of weird, and you can tell that Apple is sweating it a bit in the way they're launching it. There was no follow-up event early this year to tout all the great applications developers have made for the device since the SDK went live last summer. Some reports peg the number of actual Vision Pro apps at launch to be just under 200 – with the other "millions" really just iPad apps. Well, those which haven't been disabled. Thanks for nothing, quite literally, Netflix.

Yes, part of the weird launch is simply that Apple seemingly doesn't have the inventory to push this thing far and wide (hence the U.S.-only launch to start). But part of that is obviously strategy. Apple is actually releasing this device earlier than many assumed when they gave an "early 2024" target last year. Historically, Apple has used such verbiage to push the boundaries of the English language. And a few times, they've missed those stated windows outright. As such, many guessed "early 2024" would be the end of Q1 at the earliest – and perhaps well into Q2. A first half of the year type thing – you know, "early".

But here we are with the Vision Pro in peoples' hand by early February. Actually "early"! If there were real concerns about inventory, Apple could have easily waited a month or two. But it seems fair to think that they were happy in this case to be supply constrained. The early ship dates quickly slipped and the good headlines about demand were achieved. Where we go from here is going to be more complicated. And some of that starts tomorrow with those reviews.

My guess, just based on what I've heard from many folks who have used the device (I have not, sadly!), is that there will be raves about the technology and in particular, the breakthroughs Apple has achieved in both the screen tech and the unique interaction model: eye tracking + finger gestures. Many will praise the use cases for both entertainment and your own content (pictures plus videos – especially "spatial" videos). All of this is easy to predict because again oddly, Apple has already had many of the would-be reviewers in for extended 1-on-1 sessions, in some cases four or five times, to ensure that hands are properly held. So yes, this seems like a complicated device and one in particular which is tricky to launch.

There will be negative bits about the price, of course. Those will be mitigated a bit by the notion that this isn't being aimed at the mass market right now with the limited launch and price (which is, yes, circular logic). And the reminder that the Mac, which just happened to launch 40 years ago, was actually far more expensive, when adjusted for inflation.

Of course, the early Mac didn't sell well. Never you mind that.

Weight will be the other big issue. The device, by most accounts, is a burden on your head. The top strap, humorous branding aside, will help alleviate the issue, quite literally. But it doesn't negate it. This device is going to be tough to wear for extended periods of time for many people.3 But not to worry there either. You're not going to be wearing it for long periods of time because great bad news for everyone: the battery life is pretty poor!

Yadda, yadda, you're paying to get an early look at the future. The Apple Watch also launched without knowing what market it was going after. The second iteration will undoubted fix many of these issues. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the whole device, to me, is one where I don't actually need to use it to have a strong opinion: the way it looks. There's no point in beating around the bush: you're going to look ridiculous while wearing the Vision Pro.4

Now, will this change over time? Maybe, but only in that if you look at something really strange and foreign-looking long enough, you get used to it. Like interior design in the 1970s. Or fashion in the 1980s. Or Alf. But such things also have to be fairly ubiquitous for that effect to kick in. Again, the Vision Pro is not going to be that anytime soon. So, weird it will look for a while.

But, but, but: AirPods, you might say. Yes, some people made fun of the way those looked too. Those people were stupid. AirPods look more natural than having wires dangling from your head, like you're a cyborg. That was a technological limitation that we solved. The AirPods were pure magic from day one. And now no one bats an eye when they're in everyones' ears. Again, hard to see how Vision Pro mimics that model any time soon, for all the reasons already stated.

So there are going to be some people who walk into a coffee shop and strap this thing on. And they're going to be stared at, and made fun of. Maybe they won't care. But most people will care. I'm just being honest: I won't be taking this thing to a coffee shop any time soon. I will be using it in my home, in the basement, by myself. That, my guess would be, is the natural habitat for the Vision Pro.

I know Apple doesn't want to hear that nor believe that. And, as such, has put in a ton of work to try to solve for this obvious optics issue. While I have not seen it in action yet, EyeSight sounds like something that makes all the sense in the world on paper and as a concept. It's a novel idea and a noble effort. No one wants to stare at a person wearing a massive visor. So let's give the visor eyes. Your eyes.

In reality though? Your eyes are on a massive visor. And they're visually set back so it looks as if you're wearing a scuba mask. In your living room. Or god forbid, a coffee shop. And you're trying to have a conversation with someone while you look like this. Apple wants it to work. You want it to work. I want it to work. It's not going to work. I'm sorry, we're just not there yet. Maybe when this thing has sold 50 million units and it's 1/4th the size. Maybe. But honestly, probably not even then. It's not Apple, it's us. Apple makes the coolest tech gadgets in the world. True luxury items that double as status symbols. They cannot make a massive face mask seem cool because no one can.

To that end, it's interesting that Apple has not yet allowed the EyeSight feature to be showcased widely beyond their own promos. I think perhaps they know the delicacy here. Again, really cool tech, but also tech that may suffer a bit from a sort of Streisand Effect. That is, in trying to normalize the Vision Pro with the replication of a user's face, they may just end up calling out even more loudly just how weird it is to be wearing a headset around other human beings.5

Most of those other people, of course, will not be wearing a headset as well. At least at first. And if and when they are, we get into even weirder territory. Yes, I know I'm sounding a bit like a luddite here. But anyone who knows me will know that I'm far from that. Especially when it comes to Apple gear. I'm just trying to give an honest assessment to how I think this will play out.

Again, I think this is going to be a device people use at home, largely alone. It will be nice to be able to see your family pop into your field of view as if they were Elrond popping into Frodo Baggins' dreams as he's healing in Rivendell. But for the most part, if your family is around, the Vision Pro is not going to be on your face. And I just think we all need to be realistic and honest about that. Most of all, Apple. Because without acknowledging that (don't say "virtual", don't say "virtual") reality, I'm not sure the Vision Pro will work long term.6

1 I sadly, will have to wait another week to get my hands on one, when I'm back in the U.S. So for now I will simply have thoughts about thoughts.

2 Sure, Apple PR does some stacking of the deck, as it were, to ward off any would-be negative reviews. But again, it's going to be harder here, I imagine. And the company itself isn't doing that team any favors with the recent press cycles!

3 I happen to have a large neck, which may come in handy for the first time since playing peewee football.

4 The fact that Apple took all of these pictures and wouldn't let folks take their own is one of my favorite Apple PR/marketing tactics of all time.

5 So what is the "right" form factor? Hard to say for sure. Regular glasses -- OG tech! -- have long been normalized, of course. But it just feels like we're a loooong way away from the tech in the Vision Pro matching that mold. Yes, Meta perhaps has something there in their tie-up with Ray-Ban, but it's not the Vision Pro. And won't be any time soon. Maybe some sort of Geordi La Forge visor in the meantime? One you could easily pop on and off? One of the most jarring things visually is just how far the Vision Pro jets out. I think that's why the Jedi hoodie guy looks by far the coolest of the group. Because that hoodie reduces the jetting out effect. Maybe this thing should be a helmet?

6 And if I had to guess -- and I've been guessing this for six months now -- I would guess EyeSight is one of the first things to go on a next iteration of the Vision Pro. If Apple needs to trim the cost, slim the device, and save battery life...