For me the new Apple Vision Pro headset isn’t just about mixed or virtual reality - its killer feature is that you’ll be able to do more things “head back” rather than “head down”.
The problem with so many gadgets – including phones, tablets and laptops – is that you use them with your neck bent forward, concentrating on the task in hand, rather than with your head back and relaxed. I could scream, the amount of time I’m forced to be “head down” to do what I need to do.
Over the years I’ve developed a bad case of “tech neck” or “gadget stoop”, a curve of the back and a roundness of the shoulders that comes from crouching over small screens. It was never this way with TV – you’re always looking straight at or even up at the screen, your shoulders kept straight, your neck muscles uncontorted and at rest.
It’s not just me. The phenomenon has been investigated by academics the world over who have linked many serious-sounding conditions to it. Spending hours on your phone or tablet can do horrible things to your craniovertebral and scapular index, cause temporomandibular, respiratory function and vertebral body disorders, scapula and shoulder dyskinesias and harmful alterations to the length and strength of your soft-tissue. In plain English, you’ve got a nasty cocktail of pain and trauma. Add to all this the arm strain of lifting a phone in your hand for hours on end and multiple pain thresholds are soon crossed.
Apple’s new virtual reality headset shows a potential way out of all this misery. By projecting activities into your field of view in high resolution with their interactive capabilities intact, you will be able to do all those things you’re used to doing with your phone, computer or tablet – like watching videos, typing, tweaking your photos or creating artwork – while keeping your head up and shoulders straight. In the current pre-production model, you can navigate with your eyes, open apps by tapping with your hand, and scroll with a flick. In future versions you’ll doubtless be able to stretch out and run your digits over a virtual trackpad and keyboard, all while resting your head on the back of the sofa or even lying down.
Apple seems to have spent more time on comfort and materials than headset creators to date. The Vision Pro has soft light seal and flexible headband, and there’s no controllers to hold which lessens the volume of hardware the user has to contend with. Just like we got used to people talking on their mobile phones to people we couldn’t see as they walked down the street, the Vision Pro’s VisionOS spatial computing operating system will see us gesturing to interact with virtual screens only the user can perceive, while exploring new types of dedicated apps.
Admittedly the Vision Pro isn’t quite there yet. It’s a bit on the heavy side and the separate battery you need to cart around is a nuisance. And, while the tapping and scrolling is effortless, you’ll soon notice that lack of a virtual keyboard and trackpad. But Apple has subtly and completely reinvented what headsets are all about, and sowed the seeds of an ergonomic revolution. Its potential for greater gadget comfort has given me a compelling reason to want one. Not something I’ve ever felt about a headset before.