Apple Vision Pro Alone
Source: Apple
Just look at this person having the time of their life!

In showing off the new Vision Pro AR headset today, Apple made a point of showing how "normal" it is to use. Use it at work to make a PowerPoint deck! Use it at home to check out videos from your trip to Iceland! Use it on the road to FaceTime with colleagues! Use it alone in your apartment with nobody else around to watch a movie on a big virtual screen because you spent $3500 on this thing and you've not been able to afford going out with your friends for so long that they stopped inviting you to things.

But what really stood out was how isolating and even dehumanizing the whole experience would be. If this was a few years ago I could dismiss it as the side-effects of producing content during the COVID area, but it's 2023. Apple's idea of a great evening staying in is for me is to strap on this headset and cozy up on my couch for a movie all by myself.

Apple Vision Pro Working Alone
Source: Apple
Who needs colleagues when you have a headset? Coworkers are impediments to my virtual productivity!

They showed a man working in a design studio of some sort. But he was all by himself.

They showed a lady packing her bags and then taking a video call, and since she had a headset strapped to her face the person that called her was only interacting with a virtual reconstruction of her. Sure, it was several orders of magnitude more impressive than the Nintendo Mii-quality avatars that Zuckerberg invested billions of Facebook dollars into making, but it was still weird.

They showed a woman tuning out the world on the airplane to take in Everything, Everywhere, All At Once and… okay, I totally get this one.

Apple Vision Pro Airplane
Source: Apple
If you've ever been on a crowded plane, then you get it.

They showed a man using a Vision Pro distracted from his multi-app work at the family kitchen counter by a girl kicking him a soccer ball and he responded agilely without taking off the headset.

It's all weirdly and depressingly dystopian, pitching Vision Pro as something that you'll be strapping on to get to work or watch a movie or just wearing throughout the day even when you're doing something as mundane as packing your luggage for vacation.

This is not the future I was promised. This is honestly the kind of stuff that Saturday Night Live would have a field day with, the idea that we'd willingly fork over $3500 to spend all day strapped into a screen.

Apple Vision Pro Movie Watching Alone
Source: Apple
I can't afford to go to the movie theater anymore because I spent $3500 on this headset.

Apple clearly recognized how disconcertingly isolating this can be. When I had the opportunity to try out the HTC Vive XR Elite I was impressed by how well it mapped the real world into the headset and it quickly felt natural to turn and look at somebody to talk to them. But it never felt natural being on the outside of the headset having that person turn to you.

Knowing this, Apple decided to slap a screen on the front of the Vision Pro and use that to project your eyeballs out to the world. Or at least a virtual reconstruction of them, since the eye-tracking cameras aren't centered on your eyes so they're only getting an oblique angle. While I've not experience the Vision Pro myself and likely won't get to for at least several months, I can't help but be put off by the smokey virtual eye pass-through. I get what Apple is trying to do, but it just seems so very very weird.

Apple Vision Pro Family
Source: Apple
This is a very normal and very human thing to do.

Apple's pitch is that Vision Pro is something you'll use a lot and you'll use it basically by yourself; the eye stuff is all meant to just facility interruptions, not longer interactions. And this stands in ironic opposition to the features Apple has recently added to iOS, like the ScreenTime log that tracks how much time you spend on your iPhone and which apps are using up most of your time. The goal was to get you to be smarter about how you use the phone and maybe even use it less. Same thing with how the Apple Watch has evolved — it's no longer meant to be a wrist computer so much as a device to stand between you and your phone. Even the Live Notifications feature of iOS 16 was meant to provide at-a-glance information for stuff like sports scores and Uber rides so you'd feel less prone to unlocking the phone and losing time jumping from app to app for hours.

And then there's Vision Pro, standing counter to that very argument by being "strap on this computer and let it be the only thing you do."

We're more isolated than we've ever been. The last thing we need is literal screens between our eyes.

A recent University of Michigan study found that a full third of adult respondents still felt isolated in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — and that number was above 1/4 before we all went into lockdown. It's all too easy today to spend all day looking through screens and having superficial interactions over the internet. I hate to be the old man going "kids these days", but one need only look at our teenage population around the world to see what growing up constantly connected to the internet has done to them.

I suppose there's a reason Apple chose to only show adults using the Vision Pro in their presentation. For as depressing as it was seeing people alone in an apartment disappearing into a virtual movie theater, it would have been sickening to see a child doing that. Just picture an innocent 12-year-old kid strapping on a Vision Pro, alone at the dining room table, with nobody able to see or hear what she's doing. Sound like an awful idea?

Apple clearly recognized these problems in smartphones and is trying to address them. But so much about Vision Pro stands counter to those lofty ideals. It's a solution in search of a problem, and maybe even the first time in a long time that we've seen Apple fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy. I just hope that Apple's vision for an always-worn Vision Pro isn't how this sort of product eventually pans out, because that is definitely not the world I want to live in.

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