Trying out Readwise this week. I am still undecided, though leaning towards “not for me” and for the reason why look no further than their video explaining how to use RSS: I am about 20 years too old to appreciate the style, and the anachronisms are infuriating.
I am attending a medical conference in Valencia, Spain this week — more thoughts on being back in Europe after 7 years coming up — and all I could think about while sitting in the auditorium, looking at slides and listening to the speakers was that these kinds of events would be the perfect use case for AVP.
The congress center in Valencia is top-notch, with comfortable seats and plenty of leg room. Even so, laptops are unwieldy, especially if you need to balance one while holding a coffee cup in one hand and a phone for taking photos of the slides in the other. This is even harder when you are crammed against the seat in front of you, which is the more common situation for large conferences. And if you use the laptop for anything other than touch typing — say, pulling up a paper that was just mentioned while it was still fresh in your memory — you will have to be focused on the screen and nine times out of ten an important slide will pass you by without your noticing or, even worse, noticing and pulling out the phone quickly only for the slide to change just as you were about to snap a photo.
So imagine if there was a device that could let you take photos, write notes, and do some web browsing all while still paying attention to what matters, the talk itself. If a friend and colleague was the one on the stage you could even take an immersive video. And before you say that the virtual keyboard is useless, Apple’s Magic Keyboard is lighter than an abstract book, more durable than a laptop if and when dropped, and works beautifully with AVP.
If I were one of 30,000 attendees in a large conference, say ASCO or ASH annual meetings, I wouldn’t even mind trying this out. Alas, this one is on the small side, with a few hundred people sharing the same room and hallways, and the embarrassment factor was just too much for me to pull it off. But I thought about it, and I’m hoping to try it out by the end of the year, shame be damned.
Matt Brichler’s view of AVP matches my own. For example:
… you may wear the headset at your desk, but you aren’t going to wander around the office with it on. And as we now know from using the headset, we know this wouldn’t even be useful since all your windows would be back at your desk so you’d be wearing the headset for no reason at all in the break room.
Even at the desk, AVP is not something I’d wear all the time. Just yesterday I was trying out the headset at work, in a tiny conference room I booked just for the purpose. A coworker came in to ask a question and I reflexively took it off — it just felt like good manners. To Apple’s credit, putting it back on is so seamless and window placement so stable that I didn’t groan internally for having to replace it.
AVP’s use as a personal entertainment device in unquestionable, and I look forward to catching up on many movies, TV shows and PS5 games in which no one else in the family has shown any interest. That alone is sufficient reason not to return it.
But why I bought it in the first place was to do work while traveling, and even though there are signigificant and valid concerns about its use as a “productivity device” — the quotes are there because I have developed an aversion to productivity as a concept — I think I will be able to deal with the many tradeoffs, some of which are:
The screens. As high-resolution as they are, they are dimmer then my 5K LG UltraFine and their simulated 4K virtual Mac display Henceforth VMD, because “VD” has other connotations. is just not as sharp. Marco Arment’s observation in the most recent episode of ATP was spot on: to be usable, the resolution should be one notch lower than the default 2560x1440, which significantly decreases the usable space, at least until dual VMDs become supported. Still, it is higher than the default resolution of my 13" MacBook Air and AVP native apps floating on the side can relieve some of the screen real estate. I will see how this pans out the next time I’m back on the plane — as early as next week.
The input. When using the VMD in an environment — Mt. Hood has been my preferred place of work — the keyboard tends to be occluded and blurry, and the display floats slightly higher than the physical screen. This is suboptimal, even if you are a very good touch typist (I am merely adequate). Dictation will be my friend moving forward, but the devil is in the editing: AVP is marginally worse at it when using the VMD and insurmountably worse in the native apps.
Fantastical is a good example: the native AVP app is wonderfully done, and I’d rather have it floating on the side of the VMD while focusing on actual work. Alas, entering a new meeting using the native app has been painful and each time I defaulted back to MacOS. Considering Fantastical’s origin as an applet for entering appointments using natural language, this is kind of sad. Should I not be able to tell it what to do with my appointments and have it rearrange them? I hope the AVP market is large enough for Flexibits to consider replacing the “+” icon with a microphone, and have voice be the main input method in realityOS.
The apps. Or lack thereof. This, I hope, will solve itself over time, because having OmniFocus float off on the side would save much VMD space. But here again is a conundrum: the floating window would be OK for checking off tasks, but I still rely on too many Omni automations and Keyboard Maestro shortcuts to ever fully switch to the native app. Again, having better voice input would help.
The native apps themselves have so far — slight differences in design aside — been like having several iPad minis float in front of you. And for what it is, it works. So it seems that Apple has finally found the right way to multitask in iPad OS; too bad it can’t be done on the iPad itself.
The comfort. I have a strong suspicion my face scan when ordering got the shield size wrong, and there is at least one person who’s had the similar experience of too much pressure on the cheekbones that was relieved when he redid the scan and tried on an adequate mask at the store. The same video mentions an essential part of fitting that I haven’t been doing: realigning the displays each time I fiddled with the dual bands and the AVP position on my face. Proper alignment made the high-resolution VMD much less blurry; the difference in the chunky native apps was not an obvious, though I suspect it would decrease motion sickness if there was any before.
The portability. That $200 case is just too big. It would take up the entire space of my backpack, and I don’t even carry my backpack when traveling for business. So, some rethinking is in order in how I pack everything which is one of those infrastructure things I’d rather not have to deal with, but from limited home use of AVP it seems like it will be worth it.
Whisper on the Mac and iOS devices is stunningly good for both English and Serbian transcription. I use superwhisper on the Mac because its more extensive support for different prompts, but Aiko is more affordable, available for both macOS and iOS, and works brilliantly on Apple Vision Pro.
I was also given some language changes to consider, so I might sound less like chatGPT to reviewers.
Being accused of using ChatGPT to help write a manuscript was not a second-order effect of LLMs that ever came to mind, but of course it would happen. Yikes.
MKBHD’s review of Apple Vision Pro matches my experience perfectly, from preferring the dual loop band to thinking about it as an expensive but oh so very fun toy. Like him, I mostly plan to use mine for travel — though if Sony ever releases the AVP version of PS Remote Play I may use it at home for some PS5 time without occupying anyone else’s screen.
As for people wearing the headsets while driving, walking down the street or sitting at a caffe with their similarly headset-equipped buddies, well, there are idiots everywhere. Someone using their electric toothbrush while riding the subway doesn’t mean electric toothbrushes are inherently bad.
Or should I say “our new toy” — as I’m writing this, the tween is poking and swiping her way through visionOS like she’s been doing it her whole life, while I am on the laptop. Not that I mind, since the only way to post to micro.blog on day 1 of Apple Vision Pro is through the online interface. It looks like none of my preferred writing tools — IA Writer, Ulysses, or even the micro.blog app itself — have even checked the box to allow unmodified porting of their iPad app, let alone made a native one.
The lists of essential-to-me software that’s Apple Vision Pro doesn’t yet have is long: OmniFocus and Asana for task management, NetNewWire and Reeder for RSS feeds, WhatsApp for keeping in touch with family in Europe. I am not a watches-videos-on-the-tablet-by-himself type of person, so missing Netflix and YouTube apps was not a big deal even though people seem to have made much of it. Having the almost-complete Microsoft Office 365 suite natively was a pleasant surprise, even though Word kept crashing and Teams kept defaulting to the useless Activity tab.
Note that I am taking the hardware tradeoffs and the “spatial computing” working environment for granted. This alone is a huge accomplishment: yes, yes, I can get from a grainy image of my apartment to the top of Haleakalā with a twist of a knob, now let me do stuff. And the doing of the stuff will be essential in dingy hotel rooms during business trips — of which there will be many this year — so I may as well start figuring out how to make the best of it. But until then, it is a toy.
So with that in mind, here is a list of first impressions:
- The dual loop band felt more comfortable on my head than the cooler-looking solo band, mostly because it stopped the entirety of the headset from resting on my nose.
- Setting up the screens was much less finicky than I thought it would be, and slipping them off an on quickly to, let’s say, use Face ID on the phone was seamless.
- No eye strain that I’ve noticed, but I haven’t used the toy for longer than 30–45 minutes at a time. I also don’t wear glasses and knock-on-wood never had problems with eyesight.
- The pass-through video is a marvel in that it didn’t cause any motion sickness, but it is so grainy and the motion blur from any head movement so obvious that I never felt like I was looking through glass, even thick glass of fogged up ski goggles.
- To walk back what I wrote above: pass-through video shines when it is the backdrop for the crisp app windows that can feel the walls around them and position themselves accordingly. In those moments, when your surroundings are in the peripheral vision, it does feel like those windows are actually floating in your actual room.
- But that doesn’t matter when the most common use case will be, I suspect, completely obliterating your real environment and doing work in a near-photo realistic 3D rendering of a national park. Or watching equally breathtaking immersive 3D scenes from Apple TV’s latest documentary.
- “Immersive 3D” is distinct from 3D movies, more like actually being there than looking at a diorama through a rectangular screen. I suspect it will change filmmaking forever, but then people have said that Segway would change the world so what do I know?
- Personas are as uncanny as you can imagine. If you ever wondered what you would look like as an NPC in GTA or a player in NBA2K, well, for less than four thousand dollars you can find out yourself.
- People who know that I had AVP when I called on FaceTime acted grossed out, those who didn’t ranged from slightly confused (a new haircut? a filter?) to unfazed (oh, you’re using an avatar… whatever for?)
- At the bottom of the uncanny valley the only way to go is up. Which is scary and deserves a post or two of its own.
- It’s the way of the future, for better or worse.
So if in 2007 everyone used their digital camera to take photos of the original iPhone, and in 2024 everyone used their iPhone to take photos of Apple Vision Pro, am I to infer that in 2040 we will all be taking photos with our headsets? Probably just naive empiricism, but I had to ask.
Nilay Patel at The Verge gave Apple Vision Pro a 7, the same score Meta Quest 3 got from David Pierce just 3 months earlier. And if you read their scoring guidelines it makes sense, a 7 is “very good; a solid product with some flaws”, 10 being “the best of the best”. But then of course a 7 is the best headsets can be right now, given the tech’s limitations, right?
Well, no. Oculus Quest 2 scored an 8 — “Excellent. A superb product with minor or very few flaws.” — so now I am confused. Why give out numeric scores at all if you will be so slapdash about it?