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#95 – I hope you kept the receipt

description: A close-up shot of a salesperson working a touchscreen cash register.  One hand is tapping the screen while the other is holding a receipt.  Photo by Simon Kadula on Unsplash.

(Photo by Simon Kadula on Unsplash)

A little optimism

In recent newsletters I’ve mentioned Vision Pro test runs by Victoria Song (The Verge) and Joanna Stern’s (WSJ). The latest entrant is The Washington Post’s Chris Velazco, who gave headset the most thorough road-test yet by wearing it several hours a day over the course of two weeks.

Integrating a device into your day-to-day like this is how you learn what really works and what doesn’t. It also gives you time to muse about what could work down the road. That makes Velazco’s article a mostly optimistic review. Despite a few small hang-ups, like the device’s weight, his overall take is that this could be the start of something new and exciting.

This time, it’s different

Not everyone shares Velazco’s sentiment. Vision Pro early-adopters are returning their headsets and sharing their tales on social media.

You might point out that this happens with every new tech gadget. People finally get it in their hot little hands, try it out, and realize the expectations inspired by the advertising blitz do not match the reality. That’s why we have return policies. No big deal.

Still, the wave of Vision Pro returns feels different.

I think back to the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and Apple Watch. It’s not like Apple had invented something completely new. Those devices are one company’s take on established concepts. Computers? “Wouldn’t you like one that just works, without a mess of cables and fiddly bits to deal with? Try this all-in-one deal.” The Walkman? “What if you had one, but it could hold your entire music collection?” Apple tells similar stories for watches and phones.

If the goal of the iMac was to create a single-piece computing device, then everything else on my list involves Apple creating a small-scale, standalone computer that masquerades as something else.

So the Vision Pro is a computer-masquerading-as-glasses, right? But it’s more like a super-charged version of a VR headset, a device fit for 2030 or 2035 when we’ve just barely made it to 2024. That’s a lot to ask of consumers when they don’t have decades of history to set their expectations. Factor in the price tag and it’s tough to write it off as an acquired taste.

I can’t help but to wonder about the percentage of Vision Pro buyers who also own a Meta Quest. Do these people have different – perhaps, more realistic – expectations of a VR headset? Are they in a better frame to evaluate the Apple offering?

Paying a small compliment

At least one person has tried both. Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name is … [checks notes] … Mark Zuckerberg. And he was none too impressed with the Vision Pro.

Let him have this moment, will you? After taking lumps over Horizon Worlds and the Quest headsets, Zuckerberg now he gets to watch his upstart competition stumble a little. Remember that Meta is already on its third headset to Apple’s first. Apple may have a bigger marketing push and glitzier videos, but Meta actually has experience building these things.

(I’ll give the guy credit. Zuckerberg managed to be gracious enough to offer a small compliment: he likes the Vision Pro’s eye-tracking. Of course, the guy who built an advertising behemoth from mining personal data would like the eye-tracking. Talk about being on-brand.)

I hope Zuckerberg doesn’t get too confident. He can poke fun at people paying $3,500 for a Vision Pro when the Quest runs just a fraction of that. But let’s remember that the $35 billion he’s spent on Meta’s VR projects – across the Quest headsets and Horizon Worlds metaverse property – has yet to pay off.

Food for thought

A recent piece in Der Spiegel offers a more substantive critique. The title “Warum Sie jetzt keine Vision Pro kaufen sollten” – loosely translated as “Why You Shouldn’t Buy A Vision Pro Just Yet” – is a little clickbaity, but not unreasonably so. (Here’s a Google Translate link for those who’d like to follow along in English.)

The reasons mostly boil down to the Vision Pro being a US-only release for now. Even if a German buyer treks across the Atlantic to grab one, they’ll need to set up a US iTunes account for it to work. That’s annoying but understandable. Nothing out of line there.

Where it gets interesting is in the device’s language support. The Vision Pro, like every other Apple device, supports multiple languages. But you have to connect a Bluetooth keyboard to switch out of English. This strikes me as an odd hurdle in a country where so many languages are spoken.

Then you have the fact that the Vision Pro is a one-person device. The Spiegel article notes that you can easily hand your smartphone or tablet to someone else, no problem. The Vision Pro’s guest mode, by comparison, takes a few minutes to switch from person to person. And that’s only if your guest has 20/20 vision. They’ll otherwise need to shell out $150 for a set of ZEISS Optical Inserts to match their prescription glasses.

Other ways to spend that money

All in all, the Vision Pro feels a bit much for a first-generation device that is hard to share.

What if you have the money and still want a new toy, though?

You could toss in another $500 and get a 3D printer that does chocolate. Just sayin'.

In other news …

The wrap-up

This was an issue of Block & Mortar.

Who’s behind Block & Mortar? I'm Q McCallum. I've spent the past two decades in the emerging-tech space. And I'm very interested in web3 use cases.

Credit where it's due. Big thanks to Shane Glynn for reviewing early drafts. Any mistakes that remain are mine.

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