Apple Vision Pro, Apple’s groundbreaking launch in spatial computing, ushers new realities into the world as it becomes available for purchase in the US today (2 February 2024). Imagine turning your living room into a movie theatre that happens to be set within the mountains of Yosemite. What feels like a 100ft screen looms before you, while gentle gusts of wind and the rustling of trees sound in your ears. Imagine being able to relive memories of birthday parties and old holidays, as if you were right there, with true-to-life photos and videos that fool the senses. Choose to shut the world out for a meditation session, set to vibrant 3D visualisations that fill your space and surround you, whether you are at home or on a plane.
Below we explore the Apple Vision Pro and speak exclusively to members of the Apple Design Team about its development and capabilities.
Apple Vision Pro: how it works
Originally revealed in June 2023, Vision Pro signifies a huge leap, even by Apple’s own standards. A first of its kind, this wearable spatial computer blends the digital with the physical in a way that is frankly unbelievable. Working within the existing framework of its familiar apps and established user interface, Apple turns your surroundings into a three-dimensional navigational display, while making it intuitive to respond to and natural to control. The new visionOS makes digital content look present in the physical world. Every detail of the UX design has been specially created to close the gap between the two realms; app icons mimic Apple’s glass material in the virtual realm, while the display screen subtly casts shadows over furniture or other aspects of the space when the natural light changes. Simply put, it heralds a whole new platform for experiencing technology.
Where others have failed before, Apple Vision Pro succeeds. It takes its control cues from your eyes, hands and voice, and thanks to 12 cameras, five sensors and six processors embedded into the wearable, users can browse through apps by simply looking at them, tapping their fingers to select, flicking their wrist to scroll, or dictating by voice. Its micro-OLED technology packs 23 million pixels into two displays, each the size of a postage stamp. Custom catadioptric lenses enable sharpness and clarity. A singular piece of curved glass – three-dimensionally formed and laminated – creates an optical surface for viewing that also acts as a lens for the camera and sensor technology needed. All this fits neatly into an aluminium alloy frame that gently curves around the user’s face, and is held comfortably together by a flexible head band, three-dimensionally knitted as a single piece, to provide cushioning, breathability, and stretch.
Apple Design Team on developing Apple Vision Pro
With no set deadline or pressure to be brought to the market, Apple Vision Pro has been in the works for years. On a recent visit to Apple Park, Alan Dye, Apple’s Vice President of Human Interface Design, and Richard Howarth, Vice President of Industrial Design, sat down together to explain how hardware and software came together in an unprecedented way to make an idea a reality.
‘For Vision Pro, we understood the idea that this technology of wearing something that could transport you to another place was a very powerful one. And that there were really profound experiences that could come out of it and from changing the users’ context. But we also recognised a lot of the problems that existed with these sorts of technologies, especially around isolation,’ says Dye, while stating that Vision Pro is neither AR nor VR. ‘Once we understood that the product could be used for connection, for bringing people together and helping to enrich their lives, as we do with so many other Apple products, that’s when we got fully immersed in the program and wanted to bring it to life. We got excited about what this could mean as a whole new platform. That’s why we call it spatial computing.’
‘We put a lot of thought into how to make this entirely new platform feel approachable and seamless. To reduce the barriers to putting Vision Pro on, and not feel too techy,’ Howarth adds. ‘Which is why we deliberately designed the soft forms, cushioned knitted fabric bands, a lot of flexible materials and soft textures. So people would not only feel physically comfortable wearing it, but also enjoy wearing it around others too.’
Dye says, ‘We wanted people around you to also feel comfortable with you wearing it, and for you to feel comfortable wearing it around other people. That’s why we spent years designing a set of very natural, comfortable gestures that you can use without waving your hands in the air. That’s also why we developed EyeSight, because we knew more than anything, if we were going to cover your eyes, that takes away much of what is possible when you connect with people. Getting that right was at the core of the concept of the product because we wanted people to retain those connections in their actual world.’
EyeSight is an innovative feature that turns Vision Pro’s lens transparent when someone approaches its user and eye contact can be made on both sides. When in full immersion mode, Vision Pro’s lens appears opaque. When the user looks at someone in the real world, a small porthole forms in the navigational display so that they can look out without having to take the device off. This one capability of the device alone took years to develop.
Everything in Apple Vision Pro has been purpose-built and it is apparent that only Apple could have achieved such a feat. Over the course of the product’s development, the design team grew and expanded into new disciplines in order to generate the gestures, materials, sounds, visual effects and cinematic environments of the finished product.
‘We had the feeling that this could be great, but we had no idea how to achieve it,’ Howarth says. ‘Many of the problems we were trying to solve were huge, seemingly unsolvable and required entirely new technical innovations. We knew what we wanted, and had to trust we would get there, by constant prototyping and iteration with multiple different teams.'
Dye adds, ‘Getting to some of those ideas is very hard. And then protecting those ideas, all through the process of making them real and obsessing over those details, and working hard to arrive at a point where there’s no other way we could have done it, and it just feels natural, intuitive, easy to use and comfortable to wear, that’s the real hard work.’
At the heart of Apple Vision Pro is an unrelenting consideration of personal use. Each device is modularly assembled in order to ensure a tailored and personalised fit for a wide range of faces and people. It also features a Light Seal, which is made of a soft textile that flexes to conform to the face, also available in a heavily researched range of shapes and sizes.
Users complete diagnostic scans of their faces and ears so that the fit, visuals and audio are custom-programmed. Sound is an especially impressive aspect of Vision Pro as there are no earbuds. Instead, an advanced Spatial Audio system enables users to experience high-fidelity sound, while still hearing the world around them. Two individually amplified drivers inside each audio pod deliver sound based on the user’s anatomy, while flexible straps ensure that audio is as close to your ear as possible.
Dye says, ‘No product more than Apple Vision Pro exemplifies the nature of how we’ve designed the studio and worked as a studio for over a decade. This product required, more than ever, that we bring hardware and software, all the disciplines across the studio together, to create one singular product experience.’
‘We also start a project at the same time,’ says Howarth. ‘The hardware isn’t developed and then we put software on it, and the experience isn’t designed and then the hardware is created to enable it. It happens symbiotically. We create it together. We all understand the principles and high-level goals and then we move along together, one step at a time as a single team, so there’s no distance between us.’
When you wear Vision Pro, you are slowly eased into this new world, with varying levels of translucency between what’s real and what’s digital. Lights dim slowly when you view photos, videos or content. Everything moves with you so you never feel like you’re strapped in. The knitted band, which feels more like apparel than a tech product, brings a casualness that’s fitting for a device that can be used sitting, leaning back or even lying down. Even the absence of controllers was intentional to facilitate being able to do other things, like drinking coffee or taking notes, at the same time.
Howarth sums up, ‘There’s a hardness and precision to the front of the product that is completely technical and feels like it’s been sent from the future, but then everything else that connects the product to you is soft and really approachable, so you feel cushioned and there’s not a barrier to putting it on or taking it off. And in fact, it should be a pleasure.’
Dye closes, ‘When the product, as a piece of hardware and software, is a complete experience and feels inevitable, that’s when we know we’re done. That’s where we are at with Apple Vision Pro. It just works, it feels familiar and it feels like something only Apple could have done.’
Equipped with all the capabilities that we are already used to, like email, messages, Facetime, AppleTV, and new applications to come in the fields of wellness, gaming, productivity and creativity, Apple Vision Pro signals a dawn of a new era and an experience entirely of one’s own.
Apple Vision Pro is now available in the US, from $3,499
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Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.
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