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Apple's new Vision Pro is 'the future of the Mac', one of the top minds in tech says

Thomas Maxwell   

Apple's new Vision Pro is 'the future of the Mac', one of the top minds in tech says
  • Stratechery founder Ben Thompson believes that Apple's Vision Pro is the "future of the Mac."
  • The iPad has long been limited as a productivity tool due to touch input and OS-based constraints.

Stratechery founder Ben Thompson, a noted technology analyst, believes that Apple's new AR/VR headset is not just a new computing platform in its own right, but might also be a valuable accessory to the company's desktop computers.

Unveiled at the WWDC keynote on Monday, the Vision Pro is Apple's much-anticipated foray into augmented and virtual reality — headset-based or "spacial computing," as the company is referring to it.

The Vision Pro will start at $3,499, which is a steep price, likely signaling the cost of manufacturing a complex product. But that will surely come down over time, and Apple introduced a comprehensive set of features for the headset including immersive FaceTime calls, gaming applications, and the ability to extend a person's Mac desktop into their surroundings.

This effectively creates unlimited real estate and frees users from the limitations of the typical 13-inch or 15-inch display found on a MacBook. Though the Vision Pro is designed to be used with hand-based gestures, wearers can connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse when they want to mirror their desktop.

The way Thompson sees it, Apple's idea that the iPad would be a device for productivity never quite panned out because of the constrained nature of the operating system. iPadOS is cumbersome, in part because it requires jumping through hoops to get things done. Connecting other devices like hard-drives and cameras has never been intuitive. Mac computers allows users to download apps from anywhere, or install custom shortcuts and other tools that aren't allowed on iOS. Mouse supporting is not great as apps are designed for touch input.

The Vision Pro will be able to support productivity apps on its own thanks to its access to an App Store and large developer community, and apps made for iPad can easily be ported to the Vision Pro. But Thompson doesn't believe that the Vision Pro itself will replace the Mac either, because he doubts that Apple will make it any less constrained than iOS or iPadOS.

Those who attended WWDC in person and were able to try the Vision Pro have said that it's a product in search of a purpose. That was a similar sentiment that surrounded that Apple Watch when it launched — Apple was throwing spaghetti at the wall, packing it with a slew of features and hoping it would land on something people would want. The Vision Pro is launching with a slew of unsurprising features, but Thompson doesn't think people should sleep on the headset's ability to mirror a desktop computer.

"I do think that visionOS is much more compelling for productivity than the iPad is, thanks to the infinite canvas it enables," Thompson wrote in his Wednesday newsletter. "If you have to jump through the same sort of hoops to get stuff done that you do with the iPad, well, that ability to project a Mac screen into the Vision Pro is going to be essential."

Thompson notes that Apple is using "high-bandwidth connections" to share desktop screens with the Vision Pro, suggesting it might create a direct WiFi connection between the two devices to prevent lag. There's also a possbility that Apple could someday allow wired connections, since the Vision Pro already uses a wired connection for the battery. The Mac can already mirror to an iPad through Apple's Sidecar feature, and functions with minimal lag.

Overall, it's an interesting way to think about the Vision Pro — as not just its own product, but one that increases the functionality and usefulness of the Mac lineup. The ability to extend a desktop computer into one's surroundings isn't a new idea. Meta has demonstrated this with its Quest headsets within Workrooms spaces. Of course, Apple's tight integration between its ecosystem of hardware and software means the company's headset is going to work well with native support for FaceTime, iMessage, and other services that many rely upon, making it a more attractive proposition. It may be Apple's polish that was needed to create a mainstream market for headset computers.

If the extended desktop feature works well, and the price of the headset comes down (which it surely will), then that capability alone could move units. Be it on a plane, or a train, Mac users wouldn't be constrained by their small, claustrophobic MacBook screen, constantly toggling through apps or squeezing two windows side-by-side.

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