Patrick Gaißert

Geschätzte Lesezeit 9 minutes


The Dawn of a New Tech Era:
Apple’s Vision Pro

Smartphones are still the driving force of the tech industry. Nevertheless, the leaps in innovative development are getting smaller and smaller. So it’s time to ask: What’s next? For Patrick Gaißert, it’s clear that the age of augmented reality glasses has arrived. In this article, he explains why and how the Apple Vision Pro is…

Augmented Reality glasses are the future

The era of the smartphone has been an exciting one, and it remains a dominant force in the tech industry and probably will be for at least another 7-10 years. The iPhone and other smartphones have transitioned from being considered a luxury item to an absolute necessity for most of us. Smartphones enable so many use cases today that most people can’t imagine living without them, since they make everyday life so much more efficient. With a current market capitalization of over $3 Trillion Apple has profited immensely from this computing paradigm in the last 15 years. But there’s a caveat: innovation in the smartphone hardware business has slowed down and has pretty much plateaued at this point.

Sure, each new release sees some level of advancement, especially in camera technology, but the truth is, the leaps have become smaller. We’re mostly witnessing refinements of the existing tech and design, rather than groundbreaking features that can profoundly change the user experience. The introduction of wearables and foldables brought some new flavors to the table, but they seem, at the end of the day, complementary to the smartphone experience, not a revolution.

For a few years now, people have thus asked me: “What is next? What’s the technology that can turn things upside down once again?”
After thinking deeply about it for many years, my answer has always been clear: Augmented Reality glasses.

How did we get here?

It always seemed so obvious to me. Successful technology was becoming more and more intertwined with the real world. For most people today their smartphone seems almost like an extension of their body. Focusing on multitouch as a technology was an absolute stroke of genius at the time, since it really was the first time that interacting with a device felt natural and effortless.

For me we needed at least two things to move things forward – to kickstart the Augmented Reality revolution:

  1. A display technology as well as advanced sensor fusion which allows for seamless and stable integration of digital content in the physical world.
  2. A new user interaction paradigm on the same level of sophistication as multitouch.

Now, after so many years of internal development and external speculation, Apple has finally let the cat out of the bag, but the question remained: did they do it?
Well, in my opinion: Pretty much, yes.

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What exactly sets Apple Vision Pro apart?

For starters, the tech giant isn’t just focused on making a new product, it’s trying to brand an entirely new way of computing, which it calls “Spatial Computing.” Even though this is not a new term by any means, in my opinion this small marketing trick allows them to differentiate themselves from the competition. They are not just another Mixed Reality headset manufacturer, instead they are building a Spatial Computing platform.

Marketing only gets you so far though, so what about my two requirements above? According to early reporting one of the most striking features of the Apple Vision Pro is its high-fidelity passthrough mode which far surpasses what the competition can currently offer. People who already tried it have been overwhelmingly positive, praising the fantastic fidelity and detail that this mode provides. If they got this one right, it’s one big hurdle out of the way of making AR a viable technology for daily use. To do this, Apple developed and refined a lot of technology over the years. Hardware innovations like super high-resolution displays and LiDAR sensors as well as robust software components like ARKit and RealityKit come together to make this possible. In addition, it will also offer “full immersion” modes for VR use cases, but at least for me, the magic has always been in augmenting the real world.

What about my second point then? Apple have come up with an interaction paradigm which in retrospect seems like a no brainer but took years of development to get it to work reliably. Instead of relying on the rather awkward act of constantly pointing in the air, as seen in some AR systems, Apple has devised an indirect user interaction system. It works by using eye tracking to focus on a UI element and simple hand gestures to trigger specific actions on them. What’s genius about it is, that you can pretty much keep your hands in a position most comfortable for you, even in your lap. To me the clumsy interaction with other AR headsets has always been a deal breaker, so getting this right is really important.

These features together, combined with over 10 years of patents will probably put them in front of the competition for at least a few years.

What other features make it unique?

Probably the most important is what I would call bidirectional presence. This means that the wearer is not isolated in their augmented world – they remain connected to the real world, and people around them can interact and participate in their experience. Having a lenticular display on the front of the device which displays the eyes of the user comes across as part Cyberspace and part Black Mirror. To me it is proof that using VR technology for AR applications is a reasonable way to go if you really think it through to the end.

Another feature, which initially didn’t get a lot of positive attention was Vision Pro’s support for 3D photos and video. Even though seeing a person wearing the headset to film their children seemed a bit eerie to some I’m sure watching it afterwards will be a real emotional moment. Apple has since announced that the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will also be able to record spatial photos and videos later this year, this by itself will make the Vision Pro more appealing to the mass market.

What is still missing?

Despite all its advancements, the Vision Pro does still have a lot of room for improvement. Firstly, it isn’t designed for all-day use right now. Its battery life, without using a charging cable, currently stands at just two hours, which may limit its utility for some users. Moreover, in my opinion the software ecosystem needs more context-aware applications. At present, most apps Apple showcased were still deeply rooted in a screen-based world of computing, not yet fully utilizing the potential of AR. I expected at least something like looking out of the window and being presented with the weather forecast, for example. I think creating these kinds of immersive experiences will be one of the finest ways to stand out with your app at the launch of the device. We also deliberately didn’t see any use cases involving anything other than sitting or standing, such as real-world navigation or fitness. I think this area will be the next major technological step and a natural evolution of the platform’s capabilities over the next 5-10 years. The dream of having AR glasses which look pretty much like normal eyeglasses is also still alive according to rumors, but we will probably not see this for some time beyond that.

There is, of course, still the elephant in the room: the price point. While it’s very expensive for the average consumer it’s not that unreasonable compared to its direct competition. To reach the mass market it will need to come down in price quite significantly, but in my estimation, this is not in the cards for quite a few years. The technology which makes the headset stand out is just too expensive to manufacture and it will take some time for economies of scale to take effect. Speaking of its target audience, I think Apple wants to keep all their options open for now. Whether business, consumers or both gravitate towards the device is probably still as much an open question to them as it is to us.

What does the roadmap to release look like?

Both the native visionOS developer SDK and the Unity SDK integration are currently being released, so active development can already begin. Looking at the next few months Apple has announced that Vision Pro compatibility evaluations for existing apps on the App Store will be available on request soon. Apple now also accepts applications to attend developer labs in various cities around the world, a great opportunity for select developers to get hands-on experience and learn from Apple’s engineers. Another option is to apply for a (loaned) Vision Pro developer kit, to enable developers to finalize their apps ahead of the official launch.

Speaking of the launch, the Vision Pro is slated for release early next year in the US, with Europe probably following suit in late 2024.

One of the important challenges going forward will be integrating the Vision Pro with existing enterprise infrastructure and data. MaibornWolff is in an extraordinary position to aid our customers with this task since combined we have over 45 years of enterprise, mobile and XR development experience. In addition to development, we also have a lot of expertise in mobile and XR product and user interface design which facilitates bringing our customers’ spatial vision to life.

The dawn of the post-smartphone era may seem like a bold statement, but with innovations like the Apple Vision Pro, it may be closer than we think. Smartphones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the stage is set for a new player. The age of AR glasses is upon us, and it promises to redefine our interaction with technology, not just as a tool, but as a part of our lived experience. We’re on the verge of an exciting new era, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what it brings.

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Von Patrick Gaißert