This Vision Pro accessory will turn any flat surface into a virtual trackpad. Here's how

While the device is still in the patent stage, it has the potential to completely change the VR/AR experience.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
Vision Pro headset
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Even though the Vision Pro is still several months away, a new patent granted to Apple this week could make virtual reality life a little easier. The patent details an external camera that sits on a desk or flat surface and turns that surface into a virtual trackpad -- complete with gesture support. 

While this is already possible to a degree using hand gestures with the Vision Pro, even Apple's own patent admits that it isn't the best option. An external "device may be better able to detect taps on the surface as it is also located on the surface and therefore sensors may have a clear line of sight to the location of the tap," the patent reads.

Also: Apple Vision Pro first take: 3 reasons this changes everything

In short, a camera actually at surface level of the tapping will probably perform better than a head-mounted camera looking at that surface. 

Of course, this raises one fairly large question. The advantage of using the Vision Pro with a virtual trackpad is that you don't need any additional equipment. If you're going to use an extra piece of hardware with this new device, why not just use an actual trackpad?

Since the device is still just in the patent stage, that's not entirely clear. What comes to mind though, is that it will likely be smaller in size than a trackpad, making it easier to carry. But the virtual trackpad could be smaller than normal (to fit, say, on an airplane tray table) or larger than normal (to take up a whole computer desk). Additionally, the new accessory could track things other than a hand, like a writing tool. 

Also: Apple Vision Pro: A concept prototype with this enormous potential

A potentially huge application though, is the possibility that a Vision Pro headset coupled with this device could replace an entire Mac desktop computer and monitor -- especially useful for travel or hybrid work. 

Another big question is: Will this accessory be a part of the Vision Pro's launch? Given the headset is tabbed for an early 2024 release, there's still plenty of time for an announcement. 

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