Apple Vision Pro: What it means for content and photography: Digital Photography Review

Editor’s note: Yesterday, Apple formally announced its entry into the AR/VR market with the announcement of its Vision Pro headset, a $3499 product targeted for release in 2024. It includes innovative features and technologies with implications for the future of photography and video, and the way users interact with these media. Following the announcement, a few of our editors discussed the Vision Pro and what it might mean for our industry and beyond.

Dale Baskin: I’ve been watching the AR/VR market for a few years, but despite some pretty cool experiences, it’s never quite met expectations. A few years ago, I even wrote an article titled ‘6 reasons why VR isn’t ready to succeed, and 1 reason why it will.’ Of the six blockers I outlined, Apple has come close to addressing four of them, and the other two probably aren’t too far behind. What do you guys think? Is Apple’s Vision Pro the thing that could finally get VR/AR to succeed?

Shaminder Dulai: I’m reading your old article and nodding my head with each item that Apple seems to have solved. Apple’s walled-garden approach to their software means that things should actually work on the device. Like the app store, which controls what can be listed only after Apple has tested and approved the app, the Vision Pro apps will also have this level of control. That’s the one key thing that I think Apple has going for that may help AR/VR catch on where no others have before. Love it or hate, that level of control is key to the Apple success story. And that app store is how we got Instagram, the birth of social media for photo and video creators, so there’s a chance Vision Pro could create a real impact if done well.

Love it or hate, that level of control is key to the Apple success story.

DB: Apple’s tight control makes a difference here. For example, some challenges I called out were the difficulty of good VR capture, displays that weren’t good enough (as anyone who has experienced the ‘screen door’ effect can attest), and things that ‘didn’t just work.’ I think the Vision Pro hardware is still a bit large and bulky for mass adoption, but versions 2 and 3 of this product are almost certainly being designed with that in mind.

Brendan Nysted: I don’t mean to make this a semantic argument, but I’d say that although Dale’s article holds true, what Apple introduced isn’t a VR product–they themselves call it a ‘spatial computer.’ I’d definitely classify it as mixed reality: not all the experiences they demoed were immersive, which I think was intentional. Even the games, which are the bread and butter for headsets, were iOS games played in a window over a backdrop. What I’m most curious about here is how Vision Pro not only captures 3D content for personal use but how it might be used to share content and whether or not Apple will streamline sharing of content between headsets or platforms. If you film a movie with one of these things, will others be able to watch it?

DB: Brendan, you’re right about that. I think Apple has solved many of the challenges facing VR but has gone the next step to enable AR and mixed-reality applications.

SD: Great call out about gaming. Both Meta and Sony have tried to use gaming as the use case for why a VR headset is something you ‘need.’ Now that you say it, it was curious that all the games in the demo were not VR games but just ‘flat’ Apple Arcade games. Related to gaming, I’m going to call out Apple’s app store approach again. Sony recently released its PlayStation VR2, and VR1 gaming files are incompatible, which doesn’t inspire confidence in investing in a library of games. Apple, on the other hand, tends to support apps longer, and that may earn them some trust with developers and consumers.

What Apple introduced isn’t a VR product – they themselves call it a ‘spatial computer.’

DB: One of the things I called out in that article above was that the community had not agreed on conventions for what VR content should look like, but that was at a time when the market was more about consuming VR content, and we were reliant on more advanced users to create it. It seems Apple has just upended that model by building the creative tools into the consumption device, democratizing the ability to create content, and we’re going to get content through crowdsourcing. I suspect it will be a social media machine.

BN: Yeah, I’m really interested in how the Vision Pro might work for capture and possibly even editing. Could there be tools to amp up the 3D-ness of footage captured or add special 3D effects to your clips? If it gains enough popularity, will it get Final Cut Pro integration (although, technically, you can see your Mac’s apps on the headset)? There are some intriguing possibilities here, but it seems like we still don’t know the whole picture, and maybe won’t know until developers start working with the platform.

SD: I think it’s easy to get distracted by the ‘new and shiny’ when products like this come around. I try to ask myself what is really new here, and I keep coming back to this idea that it can be a capture device. The Vision Pro, in the right hands, can be used as a camera, one that tries to tell a different kind of story, perhaps a more immersive video or photo, or something interactive, or a mixed reality that takes advantage of being able to do AR as well as VR. To me, this is a 21st-century version of a stereoscopic camera or View-Master, simple as that. The ‘magic’ here might be that Apple is building it.

DB: Shaminder, I’m curious how you think Apple’s entry into this market will impact the future of news reportage and journalism.

The Vision Pro, in the right hands, can be used as a camera, one that tries to tell a different kind of story…

SD: Journalists pretty much embraced 360, VR, and AR tools as soon as they became available. There are a lot of very talented journalists who experimented with making immersive news reports and short documentary films. YouTube encouraged 360 video, and reporters started to set up 360 cameras as they interviewed people in their homes or drove through a war zone. The New York Times went all in with a dedicated app and gave all their subscribers Google Cardboard to start consuming their 360 and VR reporting. When I was at NBC, our team used VR and AR to produce data-driven reporting in the studio, where we virtually drew charts and displayed virtual photos and video clips to explain the news of the day.

The drive to innovate and help viewers connect and better understand the news is there and there’s no hesitation to use these new tools, but the biggest barrier has always been the lack of mass public adoption of the tech to watch VR and 360 videos.

I think journalists are probably falling into two camps right now: the ones hopeful and excited because this may mean that there will be more public adoption of AR/VR and, thus, a way for people to see their work. Or the people thinking they need to wait and see because they’re feeling burnt out on it because they have been doing it for nearly a decade and not seeing VR take off.

DB: I remember when the NY Times gave out Google Cardboard. Apple won’t be able to do a cardboard version of this device since it doesn’t just clamp a phone in front of your eyes. Speaking of which, how do you think the pixel density of the Vision Pro will impact the VR/AR experience?

BN: I think it will probably come down not only to the new micro-OLED tech but also to the optics. Part of what dogged Microsoft’s HoloLens project was that the field of view was really cramped and made it hard to take in a lot of windows at the same time. Hopefully, Apple’s come up with a way to make it feel like a bigger ‘screen’. I really do like that there are going to be corrective inserts since, previously, glasses-wearers would need to use a spacer and have glasses on inside a headset. This solution seems far more intuitive and makes them more like actual glasses someone can grab and put on without thinking.

SD: So does that mean that each Vision Pro will be tied to one user? If you have the special lens for glasses wearers, I wonder if that’s a clue that Apple expects these to be very personalized to an individual user. Things like eye tracking, which they didn’t mention, but I have to think is here, and the eye ID thing make me wonder, but maybe being social isn’t the point of a device that invites you to watch a two+ hour movie by yourself with a headset.

DB: One area where I see Vision Pro impacting photography is that it could accelerate the adoption of HDR photography. Today, most people don’t have a good way to view HDR images except on a smartphone, but under normal viewing conditions, most users probably don’t realize they’re looking at HDR images. With a more immersive experience, HDR will make a much more significant difference in how things look, and SDR content will seem flat and dull by comparison. This could have the effect of driving more people to focus on creating HDR photo and video content.

BN: I love HDR content (I own a bunch of 4K HDR Blu-ray movies), and I think that even more than with a big OLED TV, a head-mounted display can take advantage of HDR without outside glare or distractions, making it less impactful.

SD: You know, I think we’re also missing the big question here. What does Apple think they know that Meta, Sony, HTC, Microsoft and anyone else thinking about AR/VR headsets today aren’t aware of? Apple historically has been very good about not being the first to market but coming in later with the clearest vision for what a product can be and how to make the UX the most simple and best. So, why does Apple think now is the right time for Vision Pro?

DB: The pricing strongly suggests the first version of this product is aimed at developers and well-heeled early adopters. I suspect Apple’s initial goal is to attract developers to generate a large library of apps and content. Once v2 and v3 products start to ship – and those are the ones most consumers will probably start to want – Apple will have a vast ecosystem of software and content available to users that will be hard to find elsewhere.

BN: Apple also isn’t trying to do what the others are doing. Apple seems to be picking its narrow lane and sticking to it, and they are telling us that this is the lane they will pursue.

SD: Tim did say ‘one more thing’ in his intro to Vision Pro, so it seems like he thinks this is a big deal for him and the future of Apple. That phase was one of Steve Jobs’ most used for when he wanted to hype something, and it often turned out to be something important. I wonder if, a few years from now, we’ll be looking back on this as Cook’s big bet that paid off or if it becomes the next HomePod 1.

Have your say! What are your impressions following Apple’s announcement? What do you think the Vision Pro means for photography and video? Let us know in the comments.

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