The smartphone is one of the most important inventions in recent history. Here’s why I believe the Vision Pro will be even more revolutionary than the iPhone. But I’m probably not going to buy one (no, it’s not because of the cost).
BEFORE THE IPHONE
At the time the iPhone was first released, the dominant phone in the market was the Blackberry. If you’ve never heard of it, it was a phone that had a keyboard, could send and receive emails, and functioned as a “personal digital assistant” (PDA), i.e., a digital planner.
Before the Blackberry, people relied on pagers (devices that can receive short messages) and text messaging. Blackberry’s ability to send and receive emails made it possible to be productive anywhere. Almost every corporate employee had a Blackberry. Microsoft tried to challenge the Blackberry with phones running Windows Mobile but they couldn’t beat Blackberry’s simplicity, elegance and efficiency.
HOW THE IPHONE DISRUPTED THE PHONE INDUSTRY
Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone in 2007. When I first saw it, I didn’t quite understand what was the big deal about it. It looked like a Blackberry with a very large screen and no keyboard. The absence of a keyboard made it appear as if it was not a serious device for productivity and more of an entertainment device. Even when some of my friends got one and I asked them about it, they said they liked it but they couldn’t explain why in a way that made sense to me. “It has apps like a compass or a ruler,” they said, which only made me scratch my head.
Indeed, Steve Jobs’ description of the iPhone now appears quaint: “An iPod [a music player] … a phone … an internet communicator.”
In retrospect, it would almost seem as if Steve Jobs himself did not know the full extent of the iPhone’s potential. What no one realized at that time was that the iPhone’s large display would eventually make it possible to use not just as an “internet communicator” but as a personal computer that we now use for almost anything — games, photo and video editing, a photo and video camera with realtime special effects, and indeed, VR.
Will Vision Pro be similarly revolutionary? I believe so. I know that sounds far fetched but hear me out.
THE STATE OF VR
The growth of VR has stalled. Mark Zuckerberg thought that the problem was that there weren’t enough people with VR headsets. So he launched the Quest 2 at an unheard of price of $299. His goal was to have 10 million users. If they could reach that threshold, there would be enough users to attract developers, who would then go on to make amazing VR apps, which would in turn attract even more users.
Mark’s idea about the price worked very well. The Quest 2 sold 10 million units, and today, there are over 20 million Quest units (including Quest 1). But VR isn’t mainstream yet. What happened?
Quest 2 became the most popular VR headset and Meta went on to totally dominate the VR market. But the problem was that people didn’t use VR often enough. Many people bought VR headsets but only used them sporadically, or even stopped using them altogether. With a small active user base, there wasn’t enough demand for VR games for VR to become as popular as other consumer electronics such as Nintendo Switch.
Mark then thought that perhaps VR would become mainstream if it became a tool for work. Meta introduced the Quest Pro, which had mixed reality capabilities to enable it to be used for designing and working in VR. However, Quest Pro was not a commercial success and Meta was forced to drop the price from $1500 to $1000.
HOW VISION PRO WILL DISRUPT PERSONAL COMPUTING
Some people are talking about whether Vision Pro will disrupt the VR industry. I don’t think it will. Instead, it will revolutionize something bigger — personal computing. But how? Isn’t it just a repeat of the Quest Pro’s failed strategy?
A simple analogy is Iron Man’s JARVIS. With holographic displays and AR overlays, Tony Stark can do with JARVIS many things that would not be doable even on a smartphone connected to JARVIS. Similarly, I believe Vision Pro’s holographic interface will make it possible to use a computer in ways that have only been shown in sci-fi movies thus far, and other ways that we have yet to imagine.
Quest Pro failed not because of its high price, but because it wasn’t designed as a computing device. Rather, it was designed as a VR headset. Vision Pro, on the other hand, is intended as a virtual monitor and computing device. It has a powerful M2 processor and can run iPhone and iPad apps. It is also designed to work seamlessly as a virtual monitor for a Mac. Its high resolution makes it possible to read small text, which is not as comfortable or as easy to do on Quest Pro. Working on a Quest Pro (for mundane tasks such as typing documents) is not very comfortable. But Apple wants you to be able to work on a Vision Pro as easily as you can with a physical monitor.
I know that the prospect of productivity is not very romantic or inspiring. In fact, I laughed at the concept of a Microsoft Word XR or Excel XR in my debate with Vineet. But that’s only because we’re in the very early stages of mixed reality apps. Just as the original iPhone apps such as a digital ruler were not that impressive, neither should we judge the Vision Pro — or “smart headset™” — based only on examples that we can think of today. Smart headsets like Vision Pro will have apps that don’t exist yet. For example, an architect could design a concert hall with a hologram and be able to hear the acoustics simulated in realtime. Or a project manager might be able to see and design a hologram of a 3D flowchart that shows parallel tasks and interdependencies. An experienced doctor can remotely guide a resident operating on a patient, while seeing each other’s holograms.
WHAT ABOUT META QUEST 3?
People keep pointing out at the huge price difference between Vision Pro and Meta Quest 3 ($499). Wouldn’t people just buy the Quest 3 instead of the Vision Pro? Quest 3 does have mixed reality capabilities like Vision Pro. And it also has excellent hand tracking. However, its display is not sufficiently detailed to be able to use it as a productivity device. I’ve already tried using Quest 2 to work, and it wasn’t nearly as good as working on a physical monitor. So, while Quest 3 will probably dominate Vision Pro for gamers, I don’t think Quest 3 will be a threat to Vision Pro as far as personal computing is concerned.
WHY I’M PROBABLY NOT BUYING VISION PRO
Although I believe Vision Pro will be the beginning of a revolution in personal computing, I’m probably not going to buy one. The reason is that there are at least 3 major obstacles to the Vision Pro being able to reach its full potential as a computing device. And it has nothing to do with price.
First, the battery life is too short. A personal computing device must be usable for a full day. This problem is not totally insurmountable even without advances in battery technology. It is possible to have larger batteries, although it could look awkward.
Second, the Vision Pro is heavy. Some users said that they couldn’t wear it more than 30 minutes. At least some of the weight is due to its use of a metal frame and a glass shield. If they made another version that was lighter (“Vision Air” anyone?), it might be comfortable enough to wear for a full day.
Finally, I haven’t seen anything to indicate that Vision Pro can be used outdoors. This could be because the cameras have limited dynamic range and are optimized for indoor use. However, it may be possible to design ND filters that enable the Vision Pro to be usable outdoors in full sunlight. But if users have to install ND filters whenever they go outdoors, that would be too much of a hassle to be practical.
So I’m waiting for a version of Vision Pro that can truly function as an all-day personal computing device. THEN I’ll definitely get one (if I can afford it).
What do you think? Will Vision Pro become a new kind of personal computing device, like the iPhone or iPad? Let me know in the comments!