Recent insights unearthed by developers using Apple’s visionOS software development kit have caused a stir in the tech world. Contrary to expectations, it seems Apple’s Vision Pro won’t be providing room-scale virtual reality (VR) experiences. For those eager for Apple’s take on a high-end VR headset, akin to products offered by Meta and its contemporaries, this could be a letdown.
9to5Mac recently reported that Hans Karlsson, from creative marketing agency Mimir, expressed his frustration on Twitter. He revealed that visionOS limits immersive VR experiences when users move beyond 1.5 meters from the starting point of the virtual environment. Karlsson accused Apple of “crippling VR,” restricting the platform to “couch potatoes.”
Interestingly, this limitation isn’t new. During the WWDC, Apple had revealed in its visionOS developer documentation that the system would automatically halt immersive experiences when users move outside a 1.5-meter radius. It was further discovered that moving too quickly in any direction also disrupts the immersive environment, with users receiving a warning of “moving at an unsafe speed.”
Developers categorize VR experiences into three distinct groups: seated, standing, and room-scale. The latter allows the user to move freely in a large space, creating more interactive and immersive experiences. Apple’s restrictions on the Vision Pro’s movement capabilities essentially rule out room-scale experiences, making it less competitive as a VR headset.
Furthermore, the imposed safety measures will obstruct the adaptation of some popular PC VR action games that require room-scale interaction. Also impacted will be applications that enable inspection of large virtual objects, such as VR car shows and museum-like experiences.
However, it’s worth noting that not all headsets or games, even in the PC VR realm, are designed for room-scale interaction. Room-scale VR remains a niche segment within the already niche VR market. Yet, it’s disappointing for those drawn to the most engaging VR experiences that often require room-scale.
Apple seems uninterested in joining the fray of room-scale VR solutions. Its safety measures aim to prevent users from accidental collisions, but in doing so, they limit the Vision Pro’s potential as a VR headset.
Interestingly, these restrictions don’t seem to apply as strictly to augmented reality (AR) experiences. During a Vision Pro demo at WWDC, I was able to interact with AR objects more than 1.5 meters away without interruption. So, while the headset is quick to eject users from a full VR immersion, it seems more accommodating in an AR setting.
This suggests that Apple’s Vision Pro isn’t designed to be a total escape from reality. The frequent interruptions make it clear that the real world is always a step away, ready to intrude at any time.
Moreover, Apple seems to view Vision Pro less as a VR headset and more as an AR device. This point is evident in the lack of full VR use cases in the company’s WWDC keynote and the sparse mention of VR in Apple’s documentation.
In the run-up to the launch, rumors and hype positioned the Vision Pro as a VR headset. Post-launch, this narrative has continued in several media outlets, leading to some confusion. Yet, if we look closely at the user experience and intended use cases, it’s clear that Vision Pro is more of an AR headset with a rather limited VR functionality. It’s not truly designed for VR-centric apps and games.
The device doesn’t promise an immersive escape from reality. Instead, it aims to enhance real-world utility similar to other Apple devices like the iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Apple’s success with Vision Pro is uncertain. But it’s clear that the device won’t provide the same experiences as a Meta Quest or Valve Index. This difference could be more advantageous for Apple, given the challenges these devices have encountered. The Vision Pro underscores Apple’s unique approach in an evolving AR/VR landscape.