Mark Gurman: "Vision Pro is essentially a prototype — just one where you have to pay Apple for the privilege of testing it out"
I thing all Apple fans know that Apple's Vision Pro is going to play a major role in Apple's hardware over time. Apple's marketing is slick and spatial computing could be a game changer. Yet, other than elites or the rich that have the money to burn on new tech toys, the "rest of us" will have to wait before the bugs are worked out and the prices are a little easier to digest. Today, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman provides us with a series of key points about his take of Apple's Vision Pro which could make some hestitate in jumping on the bandwagon too early.
Gurman's in-depth evaluation of the Vision Pro, starting with the hardware:
- The device comes with two straps: a Solo Knit Band and a Dual Loop Band. The former is the focus of Apple’s marketing materials because it looks far cooler than the Dual Loop Band. But it’s not comfortable in real life: There’s little to no weight distribution, leading to head pain and the inability to use the headset for more than half an hour. That’s because it balances the nearly 1.5-pound headset with lightweight fabric on the back of your head. The Dual Loop, on the other hand, has straps for both the top and back of your head. With it, I could use the device for hours. Apple should drop the dream of the Solo Knit Band until it’s able to get the weight of the headset down by maybe a third. Until then, it presents a false promise, and Apple probably shouldn’t have allowed it to ship.
- Though the Vision Pro’s digital content appears crisp, the passthrough cameras (which show the real world around you) don’t quite live up to the early hype. In fact, I don’t find these visuals to be much better than they are on Meta Platforms Inc.’s $500 Quest 3. The bottom line is it doesn’t convince you that you’re looking directly at the real world.
- There are also some quirks with the displays themselves. You’ll notice slight blurriness or glare in certain applications or while watching video. Apple says this is normal, but it doesn’t look great in practice. The other thing you may notice is a bit of a binocular effect depending on your light-seal size, with the visuals not quite filling your field of view.
- While the eye-and-hand tracking is excellent, it doesn’t always work. I’ve had to reset the system in the settings app a few times per day or reboot the device entirely. The problems are especially bad when the lights are off or I’m gesturing with my hands while reclining or lying down.
- The external battery pack is aesthetically pleasing. But for its size and weight, I wish it had more than a two-hour life. I don’t mind the idea of a headset with an external pack, but this one doesn’t feel like it provides enough benefit. The cord is also too short when the battery is in your back pocket or on a desk. Apple should offer different lengths.
While he clearly has concerns about the hardware, none of those things are necessarily a deal breaker if you’re looking to buy a Vision Pro. What he worries about most is the software, including the lack of content.
Gurman's in-depth evaluation of the Vision Pro regarding Software:
- The eye-tracking hardware works well enough, but the software support isn’t yet up to snuff. In nearly every iPad app he ran on the Vision Pro his eyes latched on to the wrong elements. He often had to lift his head, stand on his tiptoes or strain his eyes in different directions to get them to trigger the correct button. It’s incredibly frustrating and can make the Vision Pro a particular struggle with work tasks. Even when apps are optimized for visionOS, it can be hard to trigger certain elements, such as the small circle that closes the current window.
- Sometimes, certain features just don’t work. For instance, having the system recognize that I am looking upward to open the Control Center is hit or miss. Getting his Mac to throw up the connect symbol to pair the two devices also doesn’t work consistently. And the Apple Music app crashed at launch during the first few days. Various third-party apps, including Zoom, have login issues. Getting one keyboard and trackpad to work across a Mac and visionOS is buggy as well.
- It’s also hard to work on a Mac (or Bluetooth accessories like keyboards and trackpads) while you’re in an Environment, Apple’s term for the various lakes and mountains you can set as your virtual space. While completely immersed, you won’t be able to see your accessories or Mac, making navigation difficult. Speaking of keyboards, the Vision Pro’s virtual qwerty board is a non-starter for anything other than firing off short messages or searches.
- On the plus side, the effect that shows your hands in virtual space — what’s known as occlusion — works as advertised. He was also pleasantly surprised by how well the software shows other people.
- A lot of the early response to the Vision Pro has centered around Personas — the AI-based recreations of a person’s face. Some people have called them terrifying and not lifelike. Gurman's take is different: He thinks that they're phenomenal for a 1.0. Let’s not discount what Apple has done here. This is a groundbreaking solution for video chatting while in a headset, and it’s already getting noticeably better in the developer beta version, visionOS 1.1.
- The other concerns with visionOS are more about usability rather than bugs. Gurman definitely thinks that there should be a hand gesture for opening up the app launcher (right now, you need to press the Digital Crown on top each time). He also thinks that Apple should allow users to reorganize apps on the home screen and create folders. There’s a lot to like about being able to throw app windows all over your space, but some sort of Mac-like Mission Control or Expose-like feature to sort through the clutter is necessary. Another quirk: The systemwide search function is hidden in the Control Center for some reason.
- Lastly, though he anticipated it, it’s surprising how limited the current selection on the Vision Pro App Store is. Even worse, the content library for the device is embarrassingly thin — especially considering Apple spent eight years developing this product. There’s a lack of immersive video, and some of Apple’s own applications, such as Mail and Calendar, aren’t optimized for the Vision Pro.
All told, the future potential of the Vision Pro is certainly visible, though a little blurry. The fundamentals are all largely in place. But it’s going to take some hardware upgrades, a slew of software updates, and far better support from app developers and content makers to actually make the headset the iPad replacement that it’s capable of being.
Until then, Gurman thinks that "the Vision Pro is essentially a prototype — just one where you have to pay Apple for the privilege of testing it out." For more, read Mark Gurman's Power On Newsletter.