A Dispatch From The Inscrutable Future
Seven years into the future, headsets break into the mainstream and beyond the gaming chair.
Computer Love is a monthly column that investigates new technology with the purpose of making it feel less dense and more fun.
June 3rd, 2030
At WWDC today, Apple announced the first headset actually geared towards the general public. When the Vision Pro was announced in pre-unification 2023, attendees were shocked by the $3,500 price and bulky ski-mask form factor. Of course, this was before universal basic income was instituted, and customers could have bought the hardware with their monthly subsidy. The Vision Air revealed at today’s keynote builds on the technical improvements we saw in 2027 with Apple’s “Vision” (I still can’t bring myself to write it without scare quotes). These updates include expanded 8K screens, a photorealistic digital avatar, and a broad selection of lifestyle features for VisionOS. However, the “killer app” may be the extremely reduced industrial design that could lead to the Vision Air being mistaken for a pair of Ray Bans.
Apple’s CEO Katherine Adams was matter-of-fact about the extremely simplified design and, in an uncharacteristic move, shared the $1,000 cost at the top of the keynote. As the event continued, it was clear that Apple leadership wanted to emphasize what the device could do now that developers have had a few years to tap into the headset’s full potential. After the initial launch of the Vision Pro, a common complaint was that the immersive quality of the high-resolution visuals was often broken by the lack of tactile feedback. A butterfly would appear to land on your finger, but you couldn’t feel it. Apple attempted to remedy this with “Vision” when they introduced what critics called “VR gloves" that ultimately failed at delivering believable physical contact. Today, they introduced the Vision Ring, which integrates the “Taptic Engine” first used in the Apple Watch. Supposedly, this advanced motor, in combination with hyper-localized directional gusts from the headset, can create the feeling of full haptic immersion.
The days of Google Glass-instigated assaults are long behind us, and we’ve moved past the initial cringe-wave of Vision Pro early adopters in first class. Headware is here to stay and has become generally tolerated by most of the non-luddite public. It was clear throughout today’s keynote that Apple sees the lighter Vision Air as a device to be taken out into the world.
One scene in the launch film showed a family all wearing personalized Vision Airs in a Parisian cab, broadcasting an immersive travel experience to their grandparents at home, comfortably on the couch. The already beloved Floor Seats feature is being expanded with Apple Fitness + integration and enhanced with machine learning, so you can play along with a live game in your own living room. Players in the game will seem to realistically respond to your movements, blurring the line between live sports and video games. Kelly Wearstler was invited on stage to present Spaces, a feature that allows you to redesign your home with high-end finishes and furniture, as well as the option to purchase those products if you decide you actually want to sit on that $30,000 chair. We also saw Apple doubling down on accessibility by integrating unique gestures that create the feeling of active participation in these simulated worlds for those with limited mobility.
Always finding a way to tap into existing tech beyond their control, Apple is embracing the abundance of driverless cars now on the road. The Vision Air includes CarPlay integration in a feature called Lite Impact that shows on-screen navigation and music controls for those who still insist on driving their own vehicles. For ex-drivers that have bought into the driverless lifestyle but still miss driving, the keynote showed a simulated experience that allows you to feel as if you are still in control of your vehicle with a selection of skins to upgrade your ride. If you happen to forget which of these drivers you are, the machine learning built into the Vision Air can gently remind you.
While they avoid explicitly mentioning “artificial intelligence” in these keynotes, it’s clear that generative content is starting to play a bigger role in Apple TV’s customizable “reactive” programming. In a bold partnership, Ari Aster shared a trailer for his next film exclusively on Apple TV + that uses machine learning to adapt to viewers personal tolerance for horror. So you may talk with your coworker and realize you saw a movie that was more akin to ET and they saw something closer to Salò. Apple closed the event with an announcement that was indecipherable in its sincerity. In a short video, a woman is shown working comfortably from home; when her manager slowly fades into her field of vision, text appears on screen that says “Work from Home from Work”.
Pre-orders will start this Friday, and the first units will be available by drone courier as soon as the following week.