I was wrong about Apple Vision

The human mind is really good at changing its mind without realising it, so I want to jot down exactly what I was thinking before the Apple Vision announcement so I can learn from it. For context, the product was launched yesterday, about 36 hours ago.

I was sure there would be backlash

Don’t get me wrong, I saw a lot of backlash. But I was expecting this to be the most laughed-at Apple product in my lifetime. I assumed it would succeed, if given enough years. I assumed it would be cool and approach the problem differently. But despite that, I still thought I’d have to sift through 100 people explaining to me how bad the product is. Oddly, that hasn’t happened.

Ben Thompson of Stratechery said “It’s far better than I expected, and I had high expectations,” then wrote a long and detailed article about how great it is. In my mind, he’s the most insightful writer on the internet, so I’d recommend anything he writes. But definitely this.

Marques Brownlee said the eye tracking and overall experience was the closest thing he’s experienced to “magic.” His video is about 20 minutes and it’s also fantastic. It’s clear that this is the Minority Report without so much arm strain.

MG Siegler haș concluded that it’s game over for Meta’s broader (more lucrative) aspirations for the metaverse, because Apple will absolutely dominate the scenarios it’s aiming at. He recommends they aim at the low end of the market, around $500 or so, with a gaming focus. Because despite Apple’s massive price umbrella, it’s only a matter of time until Apple Vision gets cheaper, and his view, they nailed the basics in a way Meta didn’t.

So yeah, there’s backlash. But this might – amazingly – be the most positive early sentiment I’ve seen for a new Apple product in my lifetime. I’m serious. I expected the hater ratio to be 100 to 1, and at this point it’s feeling more like 2 to 1. That’s extraordinary.

I was sure there wouldn’t be eyeballs

I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that you’d see eyes through the front. I envisioned Memoji eyes, but it just seemed too childish. I imagined they’d just go with a flat surface, because I couldn’t see any other options.

In hindsight, of course they went with a ski goggles look. The form factor is still unwieldy and heavy, but at least Apple isn’t adding to the problem by adding googly eyes or worse.

For some reason I expected VR

Anyone that’s heard me talk about VR/AR knows my whole script: I don’t believe in “putting my head in a fishbowl,” which is what VR is. I do believe in overlaying information on the real world, which is what AR is. (Side note: I have studied these spaces for work and read lots of books, so these are educated opinions)

And yet, right up until I saw them, I assumed Apple was going with VR. I don’t know why! I think I stopped thinking critically about the problem, and just assumed anyone making AR was going to have a stepping stone in VR-land. But if I had listened to my own gut, and recalled my own experiences with VR, I’d have figured it out: VR sucks for most scenarios, and always will. Beat Saber is great, and so is playing No Man’s Sky. But most other things are meh at best.

The key is to start from the assumption that people want to see the world, then provide immersion as an infrequent option. Everyone else did the opposite, assuming people want to start with their head in a fishbowl, and providing the option to maybe sometimes access a camera that shows what’s in front of you. Everyone else was thinking backwards.

I thought we’d figured it all out

I’ve worked at design companies for a long time, and the AR/VR/Minority Report experiences come up a lot with clients. By the time Google Glass came out, I was jaded. “Yeah,” I thought. “Looks good in a demo, but it will suck.” Battery life, latency, apps, experience, technology searching for a problem, etc, I knew where the bodies were buried and I didn’t think Google had the skill to pull it off. Later, my mom actually bought me Google Glass when they were on sale. I tried to turn down the gift, but she was persistent, so I got some. Good gravy they were bad. Worse than I expected.

Later, I was working on Windows Phone and HoloLens took some of our best designers away overnight. There were whispers that they had been whisked away to work on a “wearable” but we didn’t know much. We didn’t hear the name “HoloLens” for a while, but when it did come out, I was surprised by how limited and (sorry) lame the device was. The viewable area was limited. The interactions were bad. I couldn’t imagine anyone loving it.

Oculus devices are good, but I couldn’t ever figure out why I needed to spend my money on one. It felt best of class for a class that was not interesting.

So I figured Apple was going to make an Oculus, make it more expensive, connect it to live sports, and win. Which is part of what they’re doing, but I failed to understand the scope of their ambition.

I did not see this interface coming

Seriously? You just look at the thing you want to manipulate and pinch your fingers together? THAT’S the model? No controllers, no plans for controllers, no wide gesticulating in space or holding your hand to the side like Kinect? The entire interface is flicking, pinching, and looking?

I’m a designer, so I’d like to say I saw this coming. Especially after seeing Stage Manager and the way trackpads work on iPads. But I didn’t. This is black magic, and the fact that people say it works well is hard to even comprehend.

Shout out to my fellow designers working on gestural/natural UIs for the last two decades. We laid the groundwork to find all the most clumsy and frustrating ways to attempt to interact with things in physical space, only for Apple to come by and say “what if it’s just looking and pinching?” Good gravy.

I was also wrong about iPhone

I remember telling people in 2006 that if/when Apple made a phone, it would do far less than other phones, but look sexier doing it. I think I was imagining an iPod shuffle with a cellular plan. When they shipped an honest-to-goodness hand computer I was floored because I thought I knew Apple. Aren’t they minimalistic? Sleek? Do fewer things, but better? Actually, no.

Apple tries to pack a Space Shuttle amount of technology into the smallest, fanless-ist, beautiful-ist package. That’s what they did with iPhone, which is why I got things so wrong then. I think I made the same mistake this time. I knew Apple had great engineers and designers. I knew Apple zigs when other people zag. I know they won’t release a product they think is half-baked. And yet I was still left reeling by the size of Apple’s ambition when I saw this product. It’s another reminder: when predicting what Apple will do, think big.