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I worked exclusively in Vision Pro for a week—here’s how it went

The biggest problem is meetings, as Personas are a bit of a letdown.

You can get a lot of work done while wearing Apple’s Vision Pro and have fun doing it—but it’s not yet at the stage where most of us will want to fully embrace spatial computing as the new way of working.

I spent more than a week working almost exclusively in the Vision Pro. I carried on Slack conversations, dialed into Zoom video calls, edited Google Docs, wrote articles, and did everything else I do within my day-to-day responsibilities as an editor at Ars Technica.

 

Throughout the experience, I never stopped thinking about how cool it was, like I was a character in a cyberpunk novel. The Vision Pro opens some new ways of approaching day-to-day work that could appeal to folks with certain sensibilities, and it offers access to some amenities that someone who hasn’t already invested a lot into their home office setup might not already have.At the same time, though, I never quite zeroed in on a specific application or use case that made me think my normal habit of working on a MacBook Pro with three external monitors would be replaced. If you don’t already have a setup like that—that is to say, if you’ve just been working on a laptop on its own—then the Vision Pro can add a lot of value.

I plan to explore more use cases in the future, like gaming, but this is the last major piece in a series of sub-reviews of the Vision Pro that I’ve done on various applications, like entertainment or as an on-the-go mobile device.

My goal has been to see if the Vision Pro’s myriad use cases add up to $3,500 of value for today’s computing enthusiast. Productivity is front and center in how Apple markets the device, so this is an important one. Let’s see how it holds up.

The basics

Outside the realm of entertainment, visionOS and its apps are mostly about flat windows floating in 3D space. There are very few apps that make use of the device’s 3D capabilities in new ways that are relevant to productivity.

There are two types of visionOS apps: spatial apps and “Compatible Apps.” The former are apps designed to take advantage of the Vision Pro’s spatial computing capabilities, whereas Compatible Apps are simply iPad apps that work just fine as flat windows within the visionOS environment.

Let's find out if the Vision Pro can be an adequate replacement for this, my usual work space.
Enlarge / Let’s find out if the Vision Pro can be an adequate replacement for this, my usual work space.
Samuel Axon

In either case, though, you’re usually just getting the ability to put windows around you. For example, I started out by sitting at my kitchen table and putting my writing app in front of me, Slack and my email app off to the side, and a browser window with a YouTube video playing on the other side. This felt a bit like using several large computer monitors, each with an app maximized. It’s cool, and the ability to shift between your real environment and fully immersive virtual ones can help with focus, especially if you do intensive creative work like writing.

If there’s one thing Apple has nailed better than any of its predecessors in the mixed reality space, it’s the interface. Wherever your eyes are looking, a UI element will glow to let you know it’s the item you’ll interact with if you click. Clicking is done by simply tapping two of your fingers together almost anywhere around your body; the headset has cameras all over, so you don’t have to hold your hands up or in front of you to do this. There are also simple pinching-and-moving gestures for scrolling or zooming.

It took some adjusting to get used to the eye tracking. Your mileage may vary, but I was surprised when this interface showed me how often I’m not looking directly at what I’m clicking on when I’m using a computer. Often, my eyes have already started darting toward the next target before I click. In visionOS, this meant that I sometimes accidentally clicked the second target, missing the first.I had to train myself to linger longer while I tapped my fingers. This felt slow at first, but I adjusted to it before too long. Apple has done an amazing job with the interface, and it’s hard to go back to using other headsets with their clunky controllers now.

The on-screen keyboard is a mixed bag, though. You can sort of type on it virtually as if it were a real keyboard, but only your index fingers work, and there’s no feedback when you hit a key, making it a suboptimal experience. The alternative is gazing directly at each key on the keyboard and tapping your fingers anywhere, the same way you would “click” in other parts of the interface. I found this to be more practical, but it’s not as good as using a real keyboard. Fortunately, you can connect a Bluetooth keyboard—more on that shortly.

As I noted in my article on entertainment with the Vision Pro, I don’t find the headset uncomfortable to wear, even for hours on end. Other people feel differently, though, and the specific light seal and headband fit you get seems highly relevant. If you try it and it’s uncomfortable, try asking Apple to help you find different components for a better fit—but as with AirPods and other wearables, it seems that some people may simply never find it comfortable.

It’s also important to talk about the battery life. Apple says it can offer a little over two hours without being plugged in, and that matches my experience. When working at a desk, I always kept it plugged in, though, so this wasn’t an issue most of the time. I did try a more mobile approach to working, for which the battery life is a notable limitation. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.

Vision Pro with peripherals

In addition to the eye tracking, the pinching gestures, and the floating virtual keyboard, I tried connecting the Vision Pro to Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad. Obviously, the keyboard made typing much better. Still, I’m not a fan of the Magic Keyboard, so I tried my own keyboard (a Keychron K1), and that worked just as well. From then on, I rarely used the on-screen keyboard.

I saw a lot less value in the trackpad. There were two reasons for this. First, its behavior felt a bit awkward because the pointer gets attracted to and stuck to UI elements as if they were magnets and because the cursor simply pops from one window to another rather than moving in the space between the apps. Second, the eye tracking and finger gestures felt just as effective as using a mouse pointer, if not more so.

You can use the headset with a Bluetooth keyboard or trackpad.
Enlarge / You can use the headset with a Bluetooth keyboard or trackpad.
Samuel Axon

As a result, I stopped using the trackpad. It was too different from the mouse pointer experience I’m accustomed to, and it didn’t seem like it offered any advantage over Apple’s already well-thought-out default visionOS interface.

Turning my whole home into an office

My initial instinct when using the Vision Pro was to simply sit at a table and arrange the virtual windows around me just like I would physical monitors, and that’s exactly what I did for a few days. After a bit, though, I decided to try something different: I designated different rooms in my apartment for different work activities and positioned the relevant application windows in those rooms. I then walked around the apartment as I worked.

I made the dining room table my writing space; that’s where I put Microsoft Word and the web browser with an active WordPress tab. The room that is usually my office became the communications area, where I dropped Slack, Discord, and Spark, my email app. The living room was a media space where I kept the Apple Music and Apple TV apps. And finally, the kitchen was the planning area, where I placed both the Google Sheets app (which displayed a document the Ars staff uses to track articles) and Parse.ly, a traffic monitoring and reporting tool for websites.

Up until this point, my approach to using Vision Pro to get work done usually felt like a qualified replacement for my desk setup; it let me get some perks from working on my laptop or away from my office that I normally have to be in a certain spot with some non-portable physical hardware to get.

The placing-windows-around-the-house approach marked the first time I felt like using the Vision Pro allowed me to do something that I couldn’t do before.

A few months ago, I replaced a simple Parsons table that had been my home office desk for a decade with something much more specialized and heavy-duty: Secretlab’s Magnus Pro, a metal desk with a whole bunch of cable management features, adjustable monitor arms, and the ability to switch between user-definable standing and sitting positions.

Walking around my entire apartment with Vision Pro on my head, strolling between large windows that cover different walls in each space, with specific rooms dedicated to certain kinds of work activities, felt like a radical extension of the standing desk.

It’s not something that will appeal to everyone, but I do think there’s something to the idea that moving around or changing contexts can keep the mental juices flowing in a way that staying in one spot, looking at one screen, cannot—especially for creative work. Experts on positive habit-building have written about the idea that each space should be used for one task if possible. Why not extend that into the digital, too?

Nonetheless, I think this would be a difficult transition to make, even for people to whom it appeals. Changing habits is difficult, and we’ve been using the same devices and types of spaces for productivity for decades. It seems like there could be a benefit to this approach, but it will require deliberate personal rewiring to make it the default instead of an exception.

Consider me sold on the prospect of spatial computing being a meaningful new way to work. I’m just not sure how likely it is that people will want to put in the effort to change their working habits around it—and the battery life is a problem for this use case.

Working with a Mac

You can get quite a bit done with the visionOS apps that are available, especially when you include iPadOS apps that work well in visionOS, even though they don’t have any additional spatial bells or whistles. But depending on the nature of your work, you might still want to use a Mac.

Intel Macs are supported, but only at a maximum resolution of 3K. The resolution for Apple Silicon Macs is effectively 4K. The virtual display feels responsive and works with connected keyboard or mouse peripherals. The text is highly readable. There are some limitations, though. You can only have one virtual display, so you can’t mimic a multi-monitor setup. Activating this virtual display even disables the built-in screen on your MacBook. Further, you can’t play audio sources from the Mac through your headset’s audio device.

I ended up using the Mac virtual display for apps, like Final Cut, that were either more robust on the Mac or were unavailable on visionOS/iPadOS and then using visionOS or iPadOS apps alongside those. It was nice to be able to go into full immersion mode to write, and the large virtual display would be better than using my 14-inch MacBook Pro’s small built-in screen if I didn’t have physical monitors to use. But when working on a Mac, I’d generally prefer using my usual setup.

Still, if you want a bigger screen while you’re away from your usual office setup (or if you don’t have an external monitor setup in your office) I could see this being a useful feature. I’ll be traveling over the next three weeks, and I expect to use the Vision Pro for this when I’m in an Airbnb without my triple monitor setup.

Meetings and Personas

“Productivity” and “meetings” might be contradictory terms in many cases, but there’s no escaping the fact that meetings are a major part of day-to-day work for many people, whether they work from home or fully remotely.

Apple has included two features in the Vision Pro meant to facilitate communication with others: EyeSight for in-person interactions and Personas for video calls.

The Vision Pro has cameras inside the headset that record your eyes, and there’s a screen on the front that reproduces them with a 3D effect so people around you can see where you’re looking, whether you’re winking or blinking, and so on. EyeSight is sort of effective at conveying essential social cues to, say, a household member who walks in to ask you a question while you’re working, but I can’t imagine relying on it in an in-person meeting in a corporate setting. It looks uncanny, and that just wouldn’t seem professional to me.

Source : https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2024/03/i-worked-exclusively-in-vision-pro-for-a-week-heres-how-it-went/

 

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