No, Don't Buy an Apple Vision Pro

While the "spatial computing" device has been hyped beyond belief, it's actually just another technology in search of a problem. 

virtual reality

With generative AI, I've advised you to Think Big, Start Small and Learn Fast -- my mantra of going on three decades for how to approach breakthrough innovations. But don't bother with the just-introduced Apple Vision Pro headset. There's no reason to even think about it at all for now. 

Despite the best efforts from hype-meister Apple, the virtual/augmented reality device won't have a significant impact for years, certainly not on business.

The device is a technology in search of a problem. Yes, the technology is wonderful -- the improvements in the display of images are spectacular, and the ability to call up apps in space is impressive, if a bit confusing. Apple will also make the Vision Pro seem a lot cooler than the ill-fated Google Glass heads-up display of a decade ago.

But there's simply no reason to strap a 1 1/2-pound device to your face (nearly the weight of a quart of milk) and put a three-quarter-pound battery in your back pocket so you can type with your two index fingers in mid-air while strangers or officemates gawk at you. Not when some combination of today's laptops, tablets and phones will do just fine.

One reviewer says the Vision Pro does have a killer app: It makes for a great kitchen timer.

But is that enough to get you to buy a slew of them at roughly $4,500 apiece, out the door, for your business? I suspect not.

Now, Apple reportedly sold 200,000 Vision Pros before they even became available to the general public. I'm skeptical of that number. A lot of things get rumored when a hype machine is in full gear. But even if the rumor is way high, there are an awful lot of fanboys and fangirls out there who are trying to stir up enthusiasm with videos like this one of someone with a Vision Pro strapped to his face while his Tesla Cybertruck drives in fully autonomous mode. 

Here's the thing: While I'm sure that video looks like the future to some people, to me it looks like a crash waiting to happen. 

The device just isn't practical. The ability to open apps in space seems to be a big draw, because it makes the whole world your desktop. But one reviewer described having to walk around his house, looking for a document much as many of us look for lost keys. And opening a few dozen tabs on a laptop, while sometimes cumbersome, works well enough that there's little justification for switching to a whole new technology.

Typing on the Vision Pro's virtual keyboard is so awkward that every reviewer I've read said they switched to a physical keyboard, which didn't mesh smoothly with the virtual environment and which pretty much defeats the point of going virtual, anyway.

The Vision Pro is reportedly great for displaying movies -- but I don't know how relaxing it would be to sit there for a couple of hours with the equivalent of a quart of milk strapped to my face. 

Much is made of the ability to pinch two fingers together and mark an object on your Vision Pro's screen for annotation of some kind. I suppose that could be useful in some work environments... but I can't immediately think of one. Certainly, that capability doesn't fit well with the sort of knowledge work that insurance companies do.

The capability does work well for kitchen timers. As this reviewer notes, you can pinch your fingers together on a whole series of pots and pans, on the stove or in the oven, and set a timer for each. Every time you look back at the stove, you can see in an instant where each dish or sauce stands. 

In turns out that kitchen timers have been the killer app for other, supposedly breakthrough technologies. The review cites a 2023 study finding that the timer is by far the most used app on an Apple Watch and another study saying the timer is an extremely popular feature on smartwatches, in general. Another study found that the timer was the most requested use of Amazon's Echo, even ahead of "play a song."

Kitchen timers obviously aren't what Apple is going for here, but how quickly can the technology improve?

Apple has fabulous engineers and all the money in the world. The market it's after is almost boundless, so it has every incentive to keep making the product better. 

But physics is an unforgiving opponent. While electronic components keep getting smaller and lighter, displays do not, at least not quickly. Nor do batteries -- and improvements in battery density for devices like the Vision Pro are going toward making them last longer rather than reducing their weight.

So I'd say we're looking at many years where the Vision Pro is just too clunky to justify spending on what is, at best, a marginal improvement in the computing experience.

There will still be a cool factor to the Vision Pro. There always seems to be with Apple these days. But not enough to justify a real business investment.