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WWDC 2024 makes it clear that Apple doesn’t know what to do with the Vision Pro

OPINION: Apple has kicked off its annual Worldwide Developers’ Conference with all the usual flare, with a huge opening keynote showcasing the next-gen software updates for its range of tech.

That included all the regular staples of WWDC like iOS 18, iPadOS 18, watchOS 11, tvOS 18 and macOS Sequoia along with a new entry for 2024: VisionOS 2, the first big software update for the company’s mixed reality headset since launch earlier this year.

But, while I was expecting big upgrades focused on refining the overall experience based on user feedback, we were instead treated to… a rather random update.

Apple’s Vision Pro headset sounds absolutely incredible. While I’ve not personally had the chance to don the headset for myself just yet, my colleague was very impressed with the demo experience in the Apple Store, claiming that it was “mind-blowing”. 

It’s not hard to see why either; with incredibly high-res displays, high-quality passthrough cameras and Apple M-series power, it can easily take on some of the most popular virtual reality and mixed reality headsets around. 

However, as amazing as it is, it’s still very much a first-gen product, and that means that the experience is far from perfect. Some who have used the headset thus far complain about how there isn’t enough reason to own one just yet, and WWDC 2024 was a great chance for that to be addressed – especially with the headset due for a wider rollout beginning later this month. 

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But, instead, the biggest VisionOS upgrade to date brings… improvements to the way it handles spatial photos and spatial videos, with new algorithms to upgrade standard photos into something with a little more depth. 

Apple, who was asking for this from a mixed-reality headset? Because I’m not sure who Apple thinks is buying a $3500 bit of kit to look at images they could look at on their other Apple devices, even if the spatial image processing trick does provide a 3D-esque look to 2D images. You can upload photos to Facebook and get a similar effect using the gyroscope from your phone! 

Viewing photos on the Vision Pro

As someone who uses virtual/mixed reality quite often, I can honestly say that not once have I ever felt the need to rewatch old videos and go through photos in the virtual world. Simply put, who really cares that much? 

Okay, that’s just one feature, surely others really push the VisionOS software forward and give the headset more of a focus, whether that’s on work, play or otherwise? Sadly not.

The other features introduced as part of VisionOS 2 are also underwhelming, with only small updates like widescreen and ultra widescreen support coming to the Mac mirroring functionality, and a change to gesture activation to make the virtual world a little easier to interact with. These are fine, but these features are more akin to what you’d find in a ‘dot’ update throughout the year, rather than the next big software release. 

In fact, all this announcement does is cement the fact that Apple isn’t quite sure what to do with, or at least how to position, the Vision Pro. 

Ultra widescreen support on Vision Pro

Is it a general device that looks to emulate the iPhone experience, complete with your photo gallery and iOS apps? Or is it a serious work machine with Mac mirroring? Maybe it’s an entertainment device with its custom Environment tech. And let’s not forget about VR gaming, arguably the biggest driver of VR headsets right now. 

I will give Apple some credit here; the manufacturer does eventually figure out what its devices are for. 

Take the Apple Watch for example; while early versions of the Watch focused on the general wearable experience, Apple has leant massively into fitness and health tracking with recent hardware and software, including the new watchOS 18 and its training load monitoring, because it now understands that’s the main reason that people pick the Watch up. 

I can only hope that a similar wave of clarity comes washing over the company and its plans with the Vision Pro, as it could end up going the way of the Apple TV and only getting very minor yearly updates as Apple focuses on its more popular, and profitable, products. It’s too early to say for sure, of course, but I must admit, I’m a tad worried about the future of the Vision Pro.

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