What I learned from a week living and working in the futuristic headset

The Vision Pro is finally making its way to the rest of the world, meaning people in the UK and elsewhere can finally try out Apple’s vision for the future of computing.

The £3,499 headset places a screen and cameras on people’s heads. The cameras project an image of the outside world onto the screen – which can then be used to display virtual objects or become fully immersed in virtual reality.

Apple first announced the headset in June of last year. It was released in the US in February and is now coming to Canada and other countries in Europe and Asia.

When the headset first launched, it was met with a flood of questions, many of which remain unanswered. But trying it out gives you a glimpse of what those answers might be.

What is the headset actually good for? How can it change our lives?

Those questions and others have become clearer after living and working in the headset for a week. These are the surprises you’ll find when you do, and the things Apple left out when it tried to get the world to pay £3,499 for a headset.

Some of the least spectacular applications are also the best

Perhaps for obvious reasons, Apple’s advertising and discussion of the headset has largely focused on the amazing new experiences it brings. And they’re real: you can interact with virtual dinosaurs or get up close and personal with sports stars.

But over the past week, some of the most productive and rewarding time I’ve spent in the headset has been doing regular work. And a lot of that has been done on my regular computer, which can be mirrored in the headset so you can see the screen around you in space.

It’s great to be able to open up a big window and process emails with your music app that you can use in a flash, for example. And you can do all of that while sitting in a virtual environment, like Yosemite.

It’s a focus machine

The headset’s full spatial focus means you can choose how much distraction you want and what it’s about, making the Vision Pro a great way to stay focused on whatever you’re doing.

I had feared beforehand that the headset would be a wonderland of experiences. How can you possibly concentrate when a huge movie theater is just a push of a button away?

But because these things are organized in space, they literally feel far away. For the past week, I’ve left the Apple TV app in my living room and my computer in my workspace; the separation between the rooms is reflected in the virtual space and means you can focus on the tasks at hand, no matter where you are.

If you’d rather go somewhere else, that’s easy too. You can open your email window and place it against a blank natural scene, giving you 360 degrees of space to focus on a giant version of your messages.

You can sit however you want

Admittedly, this is a personal issue. However, I currently have terrible sciatica, which means sitting at a desk for long periods of time can be painful and tiring.

Luckily, with the Vision Pro, I don’t have to do that anymore; I can take my computer with me everywhere because it’s attached to my face. The last few weeks, I’ve been lying on the floor and sitting cross-legged on the couch while I do work.

Apple hasn’t depicted people squirming around on their living room floors in its marketing materials, and probably for good reason. But it’s perhaps the thing that’s surprised me the most since I started using the headset.

It’s a great way to connect with other people in the headsets

When I first called my dad to talk to him on the headset, I did it from the headset, and right away he seemed a little strange, he had noticed that there was something strange about me, but not what it was.

That was because he was looking at my “spatial persona” in FaceTime. That’s a 3D model that the headset creates of you, which is then controlled with your real face – essentially a reproduction of you in the virtual world.

You get the same effect when you use your persona when you can see it. When I used Zoom and looked at myself, I felt very secretlyand I couldn’t hold out long.

All this works, however, when you are in the virtual space with others, all using their own personas. Somehow, that alleviates self-consciousness and allows for happy chatting.

From there, the possibilities are endless. The spatial version of FaceTime lets you exchange high fives, but it also lets you look at large versions of apps together – so you can all sit together and skim through a presentation, for example.

In practice, it’s like being there, and it could be the future of virtual meetings. (For now, though, I’m still doing my Zoom calls on my regular computer.)

It will be a great fitness machine. One day

There’s an app on the Vision Pro that was created as part of Apple’s fitness offering, which also includes Fitness+. It’s called Meditation, and as the name suggests, it takes you through a guided meditation, complete with calming imagery.

It’s a hint at what the Apple Vision Pro could one day be: a great device to help you move and keep you entertained and engaged. But it’s the only example of that for now.

The explanation for this is probably obvious: it’s big, it’s heavy, and the soft materials might not hold up well to the wearer’s salty sweat pouring over it. But there are hints everywhere in the headset that it might one day be just that.

Headsets constantly remind you that you are human

In many ways, headsets like the Vision Pro seem like the ultimate insult to the parts of our brains and bodies that evolution has shaped to keep us safe. And while that may seem like a fanciful thing to worry about, the headsets never let you forget it.

They shut you off from the outside world and make you see things that don’t exist. They force your eyes to follow movements that your body doesn’t feel happening. And much more.

Even if you feel like you’ve consciously made peace with those things, time in a headset shows that your conscious mind isn’t the only thing that matters. In other headsets, I’ve felt a kind of fear deep in my body that I can’t see what’s around me, and a sickness in my stomach because I suffer from motion sickness.

The Vision Pro avoids both. By default, it shows you your real environment, so you always feel safe about it, and even if you are in a virtual world, other people will appear as ghosts. The speed of the sensors and displays is such that you can avoid motion sickness.

But even in the best version of virtual reality we have, those things are always there. There’s a strange kind of philosophical and psychological trepidation when you’re in a headset – and I don’t know if it’ll ever go away.

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