I’ve written several times about mixed reality experiences over the last 6 or 7 years here on my blog. I recently went back and looked at some of those posts and so I thought I’d sum up my thinking as it stands today, as well as detail what I hope to see from Apple’s headset.
For quick context, VR means that you can only see the virtual world, AR means that you can see some amount of the real world in addition to virtual elements, and MR refers to the broader landscape of experiences that blend any amount of those two.
My main interest has been in seeing a well executed AR experience primarily because I haven’t seen a great VR one yet. Some VR experiences are fun but none of them are very productive.
What do I mean by productive?
Using a Mac on a large screen with a good keyboard and mouse is arguably the most productive set of tools ever devised for the human mind. Information and creation I/O out the wazoo. For the last several decades no one, including Apple, has made a more productive platform. While the iPhone and iPad are very useful platforms that I use every single day, they simply are no where near as productive (yet?) as the desktop computer paradigm. So far my use of any MR experience has felt super unproductive. Doing something as simple as browsing the web in a VR experience has been a slow and clunky experience.
In my personal life experience, here are my most productive platforms in order of how much I can get done while using them:
- A Mac laptop plugged into a large screen with a good keyboard and mouse
- iPad with a keyboard
- iPhone (especially with voice recording, camera’s ability to scan documents, etc.)
- A good notebook and pen
Of course, this list needs a big “it depends on what I’m doing” asterisk. There are some tasks, like scanning in handwritten notes, that the iPhone has jumped way way ahead on over the last few years. Or other tasks, like sketching out ideas for my garden, that pen and paper are simply far better suited for. But overall, for the work that I do the Mac reigns supreme.
For my use, I’d love an augmented experience that enhances my productivity not one that encumbers it. I have no interest in using a platform that makes me less productive simply because it looks cool.
OK, so that is where my thoughts are today on MR.
On the cusp of Apple’s headset, which seems very likely to be previewed at this year’s WWDC, I’m looking forward to where they’ve settled on this. Will it be a platform built for fully immersed fun experiences like Ready Player One? Or, will it be a productive augmented version of what we have now like Minority Report?
It is my hope that within 3 or 4 versions of Apple’s headset - say, by 2026 or so - that using an Apple headset for productive work will be as good or better than using an iPad with a keyboard. If they've somehow figured out how to be more productive than using a Mac then they've shot the stars.
If those are my hopes what are my worries?
Apple hasn’t shown itself to be good at creating a virtual assistant and I think the headset would likely require one. Siri is the worst virtual assistant currently on the market. Last night, I asked Siri “How many inches is 500 millimeters of rain?” and it replied with a link to the web to figure it out on my own. I rephrased my question “How many inches is 500 millimeters?” and it replied accurately. I confused it because I said the word rain? Using Siri today while at the same time using ChatGPT or Bard or the like really shows the gap Apple has to make up.
But perhaps they’ve been working as hard on Siri as they have on the headset and they’ve waited to debut the two together? An all new Siri 2.0 that is available on all devices including Apple’s new headset? Given Siri’s reputation in the market I imagine they will have to touch on how they’ve improved it dramatically for this new device.
Another worry I have is how uncomfortable and draining using most headsets are. Use any MR device on the market for a few hours and you’ll see what I mean. The devices themselves feel like a lunchbox on your face and your eyes, ears, neck, etc. are all knackered when you’re done.
One last note regarding price: I think the first version being $3,000 is totally plausible. Perhaps Apple will have a $3,000 build just for developers that they can then return for Apple credit like they did with the Apple silicon transition. If the device is great and makes me as productive as using an iPad or better than $3,000 sounds good to me. I'm sure the price could come down slightly over time.
I'm very hyped that Apple is entering this market. I genuinely hope they have something special to offer. If the headset isn't meant for me but is more geared towards people that play games or will watch movies on the device that is fine too. But I'll be looking for something that enhances my productivity.