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Augmented Reality vs. Holodecks: Why Apple's VisionPro and the Metaverse Represent Starkly Different Ideas About the Future of Computing

Apple Vision Pro Woman

Apple lifted the veil on its long-awaited VR headset, dubbed VisionPro, which will transform the way you sit on the couch in social isolation.

In the demo, we see a lonely woman jerking her hands as she peers into the digital abyss, seeking meaning in Apple’s cult of mindfulness, which involves staring at pretty colors floating in the room.  Perhaps she’s nostalgic for the raves and club drugs of her youth.  Later we see a man who is delighted to go through his day with his iPhone icons floating in front of his face.  When they encounter others, their headset changes to freakishly highlight their eyes.  Everyone smiles because Apple is paying them to smile.

And all the while, we’re drowning in the usual Apple commercial adjectives.  Everything is “fantastic”, “amazing”, “magical”, “incredible”, and “spectacular”.  The presenters are so enthused they seem to be teetering on the edge of orgasm if not outright apotheosis.

OK, enough snarkiness.  I’m sure it’s nice kit and will have that Apple polish.  It is no doubt delightful to use.  Apple’s products always are.

This field, despite Meta’s billions, is still wide open for someone to get it right.  Interesting to note that the actual gear won’t be on sale until next year, which gives developers 8 months to come up with a killer app.  Apple’s pitch is that the killer app is the headset itself, but most people don’t drop $3500 on something unless it’s going to improve their lives or make them money.

Here is one interesting piece on Daring Fireball from someone who is blown away by the technology.

But About That Social Thing…

Mark Zuckerberg called an all-hands meeting to inform everyone the VisionPro is no big deal.  This is sort of like the President of the United States reserving time on all national networks just to tell citizens that everything is fine.

But anyway, Zuckerberg has an insightful point:

“Our vision for the Metaverse and presence is fundamentally social. It’s about people interacting in new ways and feeling closer in new ways. Our device is also about being active and doing things. By contrast, every demo that they showed was a person sitting on a couch by themself. I mean, that could be the vision of the future of computing, but like, it’s not the one that I want.”

The only interactivity shown in Apples demo was people talking over FaceTime.  Interestingly, the woman with the VisionPro was talking to people who did not have VisionPro, and this highlights the point: does AR really make any difference to that experience?  I don’t think so.  Sure, the people appear larger but that’s hardly ground-breaking.

In short, Apple is advertising Augmented Reality while Zuck’s crowd is into Virtual Reality.  Google Glass versus Holodecks.

The Apple demos didn’t show a group of people getting together for a virtual ski party, playing a virtual boardgame, exploring a jungle temple, or figuring out an escape room.  It was people using the same sorts of apps they use on their Mac or iPhone, only bigger and with a spatial aspect.  It’s the Cupertino version of Pokemon Go.

The Metaverse is a joke but at least it has a a potentially transformative vision.  If there really was a Neuromancer-style virtual reality where you could plug in and it was just like the real world only with no physics and infinite possibilities to meet with others and interact on a grand scale, that would be amazing (and “incredible” and “magical” and the rest).  Sure, at the moment the Metaverse looks like a laggy Wii app, but at its core the Metaverse is at least trying to be revolutionary.

Is VisionPro revolutionary?  It just seems like the Apple ecosystem on steroids. At the end of the day, it’s like a Mac that rides on your face.  What can I really do with VisionPro that I can’t do with an iPad?  Sure the audio/visual input is amazing and engaging but do i really care if my Safari tab is three feet wide and hovering in the air in front of me?  I can experience a nice walk in the woods (without walking in the woods and with no exercise benefits) but I’m not going to meet a hundred of my friends to reenact air combat in our Sopwith Camels.

In short, Holodecks is the amazing future.  That’s what the Metaverse would like to be, even though it may get there.  That would be magical.  The VisionPro does not seem magical to me.


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