Apple’s New Face Computer Is For Work

Apple’s initial advertisements and promotional videos for the Vision Pro largely focused on its use for entertainment—watching videos, experiencing 3-D content—and for capturing “spatial video.”
Apple’s initial advertisements and promotional videos for the Vision Pro largely focused on its use for entertainment—watching videos, experiencing 3-D content—and for capturing “spatial video.”

Summary

The future of the Vision Pro is already apparent. Its target market is you, if you’re a knowledge worker. And its use case is every day, as you do your job.

Apple’s first face-based computer isn’t going to be the next iPhone. It’s going to be the next BlackBerry.

The $3,500 strap-on device has confused early reviewers about its purpose. (Our own Joanna Stern has some of the best answers to that question.) Many early users have already concluded that it is a device in its infancy, and its true purpose won’t become apparent until it becomes cheaper, lighter and more capable.

But the future of the Vision Pro is already apparent. Its target market is you, if you’re a knowledge worker. And its use case is every day, as you do your job.

Since its Feb. 2 launch, many early adopters have chronicled their adventures on social media. Their experiences suggest we may already know Apple Vision Pro’s killer app: Microsoft Excel.

But wait, don’t click away yet.

It’s also email.

And Slack.

“I’ve been seeing a lot actually, in the last week, people being surprised that they can use it for work, especially as a virtual desktop," says Ethan Kaplan, a tech adviser at a venture-capital firm and former chief digital officer at Fender Musical Instruments. “It’s really good—I’m staring at it right now, actually."

Kaplan said the Apple Vision Pro is a good-enough replacement for his large, high-resolution monitor. He can still see everything on the desktop of his MacBook, and use all the apps he would normally have there—only they are in a virtual display that floats in his field of view, and can be made as small or as large as he likes. Plus, he can add a dozen other apps and place them all around that virtual desktop, or even all over his home or office.

It is sort of like how some Wall Street traders work in front of a half-dozen monitors, only the Vision Pro lets you put yourself inside a sphere of screens.

Aside from the sheer number of virtual screens the Vision Pro allows one to have up simultaneously, the other difference with Apple’s ski goggle-shaped mask is that all those windows and apps can be resized, moved about, dismissed, even dragged over your shoulder or up to the ceiling if you only need to glance at them occasionally—a feature Kaplan values.

“I think I’ve described using the Vision Pro to other people as like, just having an infinite number of iPads to pull out for work," says Steve Caruso, a designer who works on AR and VR projects at Ustwo, a digital product design studio. “It does everything that a computer needs to do, without having to carry around stuff like a big monitor, and all these different input devices."

The Wall Street Journal’s own Joanna Stern says she’s been using the device as a replacement for her monitor at work, where people see her in it and seem to wonder if she’s working. She is, she insists – and doing so on a far bigger and higher-quality monitor than the one the paper has furnished her.

Apple’s initial advertisements and promotional videos for the Vision Pro largely focused on its use for entertainment—watching videos, experiencing 3-D content—and for capturing “spatial video."

Perhaps this is because “buy this $3,500 face computer to make yourself more productive" just doesn’t have the same appeal. Apple’s chief executive officer, Tim Cook, has consistently messaged for years that virtual reality cuts us off from the world, and that augmented reality should do the opposite. The company emphasizes that people inside its headsets can remain connected to the outside world, seeing a high-resolution version of it through a pass-through video feed.

But for focused work applications when people would prefer not to be bothered, none of this matters.

Alex Rockwell, a software engineer based in Gainesville, Fla., sent me a note from inside his Vision Pro headset, where he had dropped himself into a simulated lunar environment, with only his apps floating before him: “I’m writing this email while on the moon. I can block out all distractions. Like yes it is antisocial, I’m working right now!"

Even the most intrusive distractions can’t break his concentration when he’s in the headset. “It’s the best computer to use with a cat on your lap. I can read the screen just fine even when he literally stands up and nuzzles the front of the Vision Pro."

Apple often releases a new device, touts its many capabilities, and then waits for users and software developers to collectively figure out what it is best for. When Apple first launched its Apple TV device, for example, the company touted its ability to run games, but has since responded to user behavior by focusing it primarily on plain old streaming. The same thing happened with the Apple Watch, which at first promised to be something like another iPhone, but on your wrist, but has since been refocused as primarily a health-and-fitness device.

Even though the Vision Pro was released to the public only on Feb. 2, it appears the company may already be doubling down on its use for plain old, boring work. On Feb. 6, the first major update to the Vision Pro’s software added the ability for businesses to manage the device just as they would any other critical piece of business tech, such as a Mac, iPad or iPhone.

This means companies that want their employees to switch to headsets so they can better tolerate being shoehorned back into open plan offices, for example, might be able to justify the purchase and manage them as they would any other piece of tech.

After Apple reported its fourth-quarter earnings Feb. 1, Cook said the company was “incredibly excited about the enterprise opportunities with Vision Pro." And Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said that companies including Walmart, Nike and Vanguard have started using the headset for everything from collaborative product design to “everyday productivity."

And while some developers have expressed skepticism and even outright hostility to the Vision Pro, big enterprise software companies were sure to make their productivity software available the moment the headset launched. Microsoft’s entire 365 Suite—including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Teams—are already available on the Vision Pro.

Not everyone is convinced that version 1.0 of the Vision Pro is ready to fully replace monitors, tablets and all the other screens a person typically uses. One issue is, of course, the weight of the headset. At nearly one and a half pounds, with most of that weight on the front of the device, cantilevered in front of a person’s eyes, comfort while using it for long periods of time has been an issue for some early adopters.

Another issue is that the Vision Pro software is still not as capable as some would like, and it can be buggy. Michael Himelstein is a director of operations at digital marketing firm Rambunctious Rhino, in Denver. Like others, he’s found that the eye tracking in the Vision Pro—which is how users point at things inside the device, in lieu of a mouse or the 3-D controllers favored by Meta—isn’t as accurate as he’d like. In addition, the Safari web browser it runs isn’t as capable as the one on his Mac, which prevents him from doing some aspects of his job in the headset.

Then there is the larger, existential question about a headset like the Vision Pro: In a world already full of extremely good displays, what’s the point in adding one more—and within inches of your eyeballs?

For some corporate customers—the point could simply be letting workers shut out distractions, open a dozen windows full of productivity tools, and grind like their future employment depends on it.

And in a world in which even the most profitable companies are focused on trimming their ranks while boosting productivity and profits, that may be reason enough to pony up $3,500 a head.

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Write to Christopher Mims at christopher.mims@wsj.com

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