“We’re constantly in search of new ways to entertain, inform and inspire our fans by combining extraordinary creativity with groundbreaking technology to create truly remarkable experiences,” Iger said during Apple’s WWDC 2023 keynote on Monday. “And we believe Apple Vision Pro is a revolutionary platform that can make our vision a reality.”
The demo reel for the collaboration between Disney and Apple included 3D visuals of a basketball court, showing how users could be immersed in sports contests from home, as well as immersive National Geographic content that placed the viewer in the middle of the ocean.
“It will allow us to create deeply personal experiences that bring our fans closer to the characters they love,” Iger said. “This platform will allow us to bring Disney to our fans in ways that were previously impossible.”
The sizzle reel also showcased Mickey Mouse springing to life in a living room, a fireworks show from Disney’s theme parks erupting in a kitchen and fans watching Star Wars content from a planet’s surface.
“We’re so proud to yet again be partnering the greatest storytelling company in the world with the most innovative technology company in the world to bring you real life magic,” Iger said.
As previously reported, the Apple headset allows the wearer to see the real or physical world around them, unlike VR headsets that fully envelop the face and limit visibility. There’s a floating “Home View” visible as soon as the wearer straps it on. And scenes in the pretaped video showed a person wearing the headset walking around their home, grabbing a sparkling water from the fridge, indicating that the company expects people will wear this as part of their day-to-day. Or during long flights.
The headset features 4K displays, infrared cameras, and LED illuminators. Company executives also remarked many times that the field of view isn’t limited, which means it’s likely not using the waveguide lens technology common on other augmented-reality headsets (which refract light and cast virtual objects into the wearer’s eyes.) It’s running on Apple’s M2 chip, as well as a new, mixed-reality-specific R1 chip.
One of the notable features of the Vision Pro headset is its small dial, which lets wearers alternate between mixed-reality mode—seeing more of the real world—and virtual-reality mode, which offers more immersive face-computing. It also relies on voice input, including Siri, to open and close apps and play media. In the pretaped demo of the new headset, no hand controllers were used. Tiny spatial audio speakers are nestled in the soft headband.
As previously reported, the Vision Pro is equipped with an external battery pack, similar to how other augmented-reality headsets, such as NReal’s glasses and Magic Leap’s headsets, have been designed. This sometimes makes for a clunkier experience overall, but it means the headset is lighter.
The top of the Vision Pro has a button on the left that serves as a shutter button to take 3D videos and photos, which I didn’t get to try. The Digital Crown is on the right; clicking it brings up the home screen of app icons, while turning it changes the level of VR immersion in certain modes. I asked why anyone would want to set the immersion level anywhere other than all-on or all-off, and it appears Apple is thinking of the middle immersion setting as a sort of adjustable desktop workspace for apps while leaving the sides open for you to talk to your colleagues.
The video passthrough was similarly impressive. It appeared with zero latency and was sharp, crisp and clear. I happily talked to others, walked around the room, and even took notes on my phone while wearing the headset — something I would never be able to do with something like the Meta Quest Pro. That said, it’s still video passthrough. I could see pretty intense compression at times, and loss of detail when people’s faces moved into shadows. I could see the IR light on the front of my iPhone futilely blink as it attempted to unlock with FaceID to no avail. And the display was dimmer than the room itself, so when I took the headset off my eyes had to adjust to how much brighter the room was in reality.
A Revolutionary Operating System and User Interface
Built on the foundation of decades of engineering innovation in macOS, iOS, and iPadOS, visionOS was designed from the ground up to support the low-latency requirements of spatial computing. The result is a revolutionary operating system that delivers powerful spatial experiences that can take advantage of the space around the user, unlocking new opportunities at work and at home.
visionOS features a brand-new three-dimensional interface that makes digital content look and feel present in a user’s physical world. By responding dynamically to natural light and casting shadows, it helps the user understand scale and distance. To enable user navigation and interaction with spatial content, Apple Vision Pro introduces an entirely new input system controlled by a person’s eyes, hands, and voice. Users can browse through apps by simply looking at them, tapping their fingers to select, flicking their wrist to scroll, or using voice to dictate.
The headset also allows users to look through the headset and change the display using their eyes, hands and voice. The display on the headset adapts to a user’s surroundings, but can also extend into an immersive environment, adjustable by the user. Unlike other AR headsets, the technology uses a feature called “eyesight” allowing a user’s eyes to be visible and detect when others are approaching the user.
During the event, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the company would collaborate with Apple to ensure its streaming platform Disney+ would be equipped with new Vision Pro features from the headset’s launch. In a short video, users were seen using the device to get live game stats, bring Disney characters like Mickey Mouse to life, and bring Disney World’s Magic Kingdom into their home.
The headset comes at a pivotal time for both Apple and virtual reality technology. Apple remains a behemoth in the tech world, valued at almost $3 trillion. But in spite of products like the iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods, technologists and industry analysts have wondered for more than a decade whether Apple can make another category-defining product on the order of the original iPhone.
VR tech, meanwhile, has been around for decades without ever breaking through to mass mainstream appeal. More recent investments by other tech companies into VR experiences — sometimes called the metaverse — have generally been regarded as middling at best. No company has managed to create a must-have case for headsets, a truly irreplaceable daily need that only that technology can satisfy.
Still, Apple has a proven ability to push the public to adopt new technologies. The iPhone was not the first smartphone, but Apple made having one at first a mark of status, and eventually the way tens of millions of people conduct the logistics of work, romance and travel. And its products have catalyzed and occasionally reinvented whole industries. Its smartphone put social media at the world’s fingertips, the App Store launched millions of companies, and iTunes upended the music business.
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