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10 reasons the Apple Vision Pro is secretly brilliant

Apple is taking an unusual approach with Vision Pro. Is it a calculated move or a risky gamble?
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
Apple Vision Pro with Energy Yellow Background
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Let's dive right in with the reasons, and then we'll unpack each one in-depth below:

  1. The technology is brilliant; it's just not practical yet (this governs everything).
  2. The high price demand-allocates users, so only those few who are truly willing to take a chance will use it.
  3. That strategy reduces the chance that millions of mainstream users would be disappointed in a not-fully-baked product category.
  4. It gives developers a few years to find and perfect the killer apps.
  5. We all get the criticism and bafflement out of our systems before a truly mainstream product is launched.
  6. It gives mainstream users a chance to hear about and learn about the concept of spatial computing, so when mainstream products come out, they don't need to be educated on the basics.
  7. It gives Apple time to nurture superfans, who will evangelize and influence with future releases.
  8. It can already be genuinely useful and game-changing to those who are very space-constrained.
  9. It gives Apple a few years' time to iterate on improvements to the size and weight of the device, and then on the price.
  10. It gives Apple a few years of real user feedback to find the compelling story of this device.

Why it's 'secretly' brilliant

By all accounts, the Vision Pro is beautiful and impressive, but there are very few game-changing apps on it. It's also wildly expensive compared to other Apple products. The Vision Pro is a finished, complete Apple product but it's also, kind of, not.

Apple launches products very differently from the way Google does.

Review: Apple Vision Pro: Fascinating, flawed, and needs to fix 5 things

Google throws interesting concepts into the wind and waits and sees which ones fly. It slaps a "beta" label on, so users know that no matter how good it is, the product might well be yanked out from under them. Google thrives by letting users test half-baked ideas, but since the ideas are labeled as "beta," it's presumed the users know they're glorified laboratory subjects.

Apple, on the other hand, launches very finished products. That's it. With the exception of public previews and developer releases of OS builds, everything Apple ships is fully complete, usually with exceptional fit and finish. Apple just doesn't ship half-baked products.

To be fair, Apple has made some dumb moves. The charging port on the bottom of the Magic Mouse comes to mind, as does the Butterfly keyboard. But even those mistakes were finely crafted mistakes. It wasn't like Apple was testing where to put that mouse charging port. It confidently placed that port on the bottom of its mouse, and that was that.

Also: The best VR headsets right now (and they're not just from Meta)

And then, there's the Vision Pro. It's a finished product, in that the manufacturing process is turning out another technology jewel from Apple. But Apple really needs a few more years to develop the technology that makes the device feel like a pair of glasses. And it needs to be priced like an iPhone.

By calling it "Pro" and pricing it so high, Apple is saying it understands that this won't be a barn burner of a sellout product. And if it only sells a few hundred thousand units or fewer, Apple won't be accused of having a failure on its hands. Of course, it will only sell a small number of units compared to its other hyper-successful product lines. It's ungainly, impractical, heavy, doesn't do much, and bonkers expensive -- a product only a developer could truly love.

Launching the product now, and with the limitations it currently has, Apple is giving itself the runway to work on this spatial computing concept in public, but without having everyone push back against the category and call it a failure.

Also: I configured Vision Pro with Apple's highest upgrades, and the price was surprisingly fair

That's secretly brilliant. It's a beta packaged as a finished product that everyone knows needs more time to bake.

Now, let's take a look at each of those reasons in a bit more depth…

1. The tech really isn't ready

This governs everything. You know the story. It weighs as much as one of the heavier iPads. It only runs for an hour or so. It costs more than an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, and a Mac combined.

Also: I tried Apple Vision Pro and it's far ahead of where I expected

Right now, it's ungainly and impractical. In five years, or even in two years, that probably won't be the case. That said, the technology works.

By shipping the first generation Vision Pro now, Apple lets the public see and start thinking about this tech. But it also gets the time to refine it until it makes practical sense.

2. The high price demand-allocates users

Apple can't and won't make all that many Vision Pros. Apple knows the price point will turn off a lot of potential buyers. Hey, I'm not buying one. I have another roof repair to pay for.

But some users will pay the steep price of entry. ZDNET's editor-in-chief talked to Vision Pro buyers and ascertained nine reasons they're plunking down their credit cards. They range from early adopter excitement to journalists who need to try out the new hotness and write about it, to people very interested in VR and AR, to developers, developers, developers. Some people even think this first unit could be a collector's item. On that, I have my doubts.

Also: This ultraportable VR headset gave me a taste of Vision Pro at a fraction of the cost

The bottom line is that the bottom line is helping to filter out all but the most dedicated buyers. That also gives Apple runway to further refine the product category.

3. It won't disappoint mainstream users

Because the Vision Pro is, at least today, pretty much a glorified iPad that hangs from your head, it's not for everyone. Were it priced at a more reasonable rate, say $1,099 like the entry-level MacBook Air, many more people would buy one.

And then they'd discover it doesn't do much. It doesn't even play Netflix or run YouTube. My $500 Meta Quest 3 plays Netflix and plays YouTube videos. The Vision Pro, which costs seven times more, doesn't.

Also: ZDNET's product of the year: Meta Quest 3 was the quiet shocker of 2023

Apple claims it will run thousands of iPad apps, but big whoop. My iPad runs iPad apps. The 3D photographs and videos may be compelling and incredibly impressive, but they are novelties.

We all know the story with many gee-whiz products. They excite for a few weeks and then sit on a shelf. For most users, that would be the fate of the Vision Pro. But by limiting the number of users through its price, only the most interested will use it. The mass user base, the most likely to be disappointed, won't buy one. Therefore, they won't be disappointed in this early entry in Apple's spatial computing strategy.

4. Time to find those killer apps

I have no doubt there are killer apps for the Vision Pro platform. There will be some vertical industry applications that are amazing. There may also be other, more mass-market applications that are compelling reasons to buy a Vision Pro.

Also: 7 best practices Apple recommends when designing for VisionOS

But they don't exist yet. Now that the Vision Pro and VisionOS are out, developers can start working on apps, start experimenting, and start to see what really stands out. As Apple moves to reduce the mass and price of its Vision platform, developers will be finding apps that give users reasons to buy the device.

5. Get the complaints out of our systems

When you try to convince users to hang a pound-and-a-half shoebox over our eyeballs that costs as much as a used Honda, there are going to be complaints.

See what I did right there? I mocked the Vision Pro for its weight and price. That kind of mocking is almost irresistible. This is a device that's just begging to be mocked, at least to some degree.

We also complained about the first iPhone. It didn't run apps. You couldn't rearrange the icons. You couldn't even cut and paste. Once those complaints were sorted out, the iPhone became an icon.

Also: The Mac turns 40: How Apple's rebel PC almost failed again and again

With the current Vision Pro, we're getting all that mocking and complaining out of our systems. Then, when Apple does introduce its pair of super-duper eyeglasses, we'll have already done the mocking, making complaining about spatial computing seem so last year.

6. It educates users

While most mainstream users won't buy a Vision Pro, they can certainly try one out. Especially once the launch crush passes, anyone who goes into an Apple Store will have the chance to put one on their face and see what all the fuss is about.

All the articles and videos we in the tech press are generating also help to educate users on what spatial computing is. People who otherwise might never have heard of AR, VR, mixed reality, and spatial computing will know it's that thing that floats in front of your eyes.

Also: I demoed Xreal's AR glasses for spatial computing and they're better than I expected

Look at it this way. The iPhone wouldn't have been nearly as popular when it first came out if users didn't already know what an iPod was. But since users knew about storing thousands of songs, the idea of combining a music player and a phone made total sense. Pre-education reduced the sales cycle and increased the excitement for the iPhone.

7. Nurturing the superfans

In today's media world, so-called influencers have an outsized…influence… on buying patterns. Bloggers, YouTubers, and Instagram stars have enormous followings and serve to showcase and explain products in ways that ads never could.

But spatial computing is still new. While some influencers have had experience with AR and VR, many of us haven't. I bought the Quest last month strictly because I wanted to start learning what the tech was about, and I didn't even know if I could physically tolerate using it.

Also: Who's afraid of VR? I was - until I tried Meta Quest 3

Now that I know that modern VR is not going to make me as sick as older technology, I can spend my time evangelizing the technology. Those who are even more serious about spatial computing, and who plunk down the big bucks to buy a Vision Pro, will develop followings specifically interested in Apple's tech, and will learn all the ins-and-outs of what the tech can do.

So then, when a more reasonable and approachable product comes out, there will be a superfan army, already in place and ready to promote the mass market hotness Apple is sure to introduce.

8. Already a killer app for the space-constrained

One of my biggest complaints about the Meta Quest 3 is that it wants a fairly large open space, so you can move around while using it. It maps your room and creates warning barricades when you get too close to the edges. This all makes sense for use while standing. But it also sets up these barricades when sitting, making it sometimes annoying to watch a video or do a seated task through the barricade walls.

Also: I bought custom lenses for my Meta Quest 3 - but you might not need them

I am still trying to figure out how to get around that. But as a newbie user, it's a pain.

Apple doesn't appear to intend the Vision Pro to be primarily used while standing. In fact, most of the demos show the user sitting down. For those with very limited space, like in a tiny apartment, the Vision Pro could provide a very large workspace. Members of the van life movement are likely to love the Vision Pro, even now. And it's definitely a boon for long flights, even with battery limitations and possible situational awareness worries.

I can also see the Vision Pro being a wonderful off-duty distraction for those serving on naval vessels, with the very small officers' cabins and even smaller bunks for below-deck personnel.

9. Size does matter

I've harped on size and price over and over in this article. The secretly brilliant launch of the Vision Pro allows Apple to start its year-over-year refinement cycle that has served it so well with its other technology.

10. Time to find a compelling story

You may not remember, but notifications were originally thought to be the main selling point of the Apple Watch. Don't get me wrong. I rely on some of those notifications on my watch. But the real compelling story of the Apple Watch became fitness and health.

Also: Would you believe a VR headset outsold AirPods during Black Friday? It happened

Apple was a late entrant to the smartwatch market, but eight years in, it's now the market share leader.

We don't know the compelling story for the Vision Pro and its progeny yet. But there will undoubtedly be one. By launching now, and watching what developers and users do with the spatial computing model, Apple will have time to find that compelling story.

And so will we. Stay with us as we continue to explore the Vision Pro. Let us know what you think of Apple's secretly brilliant move. Did you order a Vision Pro? Do you have a Quest headset? 

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to subscribe to my weekly update newsletter on Substack, and follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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