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Will Apple's Vision Pro Find A Place In The Designer's Toolbox?

by Rudy Sanchez on 06/20/2023 | 5 Minute Read

Will the user interfaces we use to compute and, well, do almost everything, change? From the looks of it, the answer might be a resounding yes.

Recently, Apple unveiled its entry into the mixed reality (XR) space, the Vision Pro. Rather than using the conventional computing peripherals we’re all used to—namely, physical keyboards, mice, touchpads, and touch screens—the Vision Pro primarily relies on eye tracking and gestures within an XR environment. Apple’s demo of the upcoming XR device showed how users interact with apps with finger scrolling and typing on a virtual keyboard.

The headset will launch next year at a very early adopter price of $3,500.

If the Vision Pro’s price tag seems high, that's because it probably is. According to recent data published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, folks making the median wage of $29.65 an hour would need to set aside nearly three weeks' worth of income to get their hands on the Vision Pro. Unless you’re a woman, then your median wage is $24.90, and you’ll have to work a little over 3.5 weeks for Apple’s latest hi-tech marvel.

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Entry costs aside, the mixed reality space might look and feel amazing to one wearing the headset, but from the outside, it’s a bit jarring to see someone pinching and pointing into the ether while wearing ski goggles. It’s nearly impossible to avoid Vision Pro comparison to dystopian sci-fi depictions of mixed reality, like Snow Crash, Ready Player One, and Minority Report. One has to wonder if Apple is herding us all into a similarly bleak future.

Still, the Cupertino-based technology giant has a history of significantly transforming everyday people work, especially creative professionals. But is the Apple Vision Pro the latest productivity machine for designers and artists following in the footsteps of the Macintosh, iPad, and iPhone, or a consumption device more akin to the AppleTV, iPods, and Airpods?

When Apple introduced the Macintosh and its game-changing Graphic User Interface (GUI) in 1984, it paved the way for digital graphic design, and Photoshop 1.0 would launch six years later.

Fast forward a few decades to the Vision Pro launch, and the world looks vastly different. In its first iteration, Apple wowed with Vision Pro’s promise of “spatial computing.” However, the productivity use cases shown in the Vision Pro demo mostly did the same tasks, like video conferencing, messaging, and web browsing, but with a much larger display.

All neat tech wizardry, to be sure, but Apple still hasn’t shown us enough to know how designers would benefit from using the Vision Pro. Apple says there are already thousands of apps, including some core software like Safari and iMessage, Microsoft 365, and Zoom, which are already compatible with the Vision Pro.

Adobe software is usually a part of significant Apple product demos. But, up to this point, we’ve only seen Lightroom used with the Vision Pro—Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign were missing from the unveiling.

So, if we can't look to Apple to show us how designers will use its new XR headset, we can at least look at Adobe’s work in the VR space so far to imagine how a Vision Pro will fit your future workflow. Applications like Substance 3D support VR headsets from companies such as Oculus, HTC, and Valve, and Aero is Adobe’s Augmented Reality (AR) application. Designers can go from a conventional desktop environment, take their projects into a VR space, and back again.

Many designers prefer to use laptops like the Macbook Pro for the portability and enough power to do their most resource-intensive creative tasks (unless they're in the office using three different screens). The ability to move and travel with the laptop comes with a compromise in screen size. However, with Vision Pro, designers can create a massive virtual screen, regardless of the desk size.

Over time, Apple’s eye and gesture tracking could be incorporated by developers, redefining the User Interface (UI), including design software. Just as many were skeptical of Apple’s no physical keyboard approach to the iPhone, the UI paradigm won out in mobile. Apple introduced the GUI and mouse to many computer users, then the touchscreen and multi-gesture UI on mobile, and now the tech firm believes they've cracked XR UI.

“I see the Vision Pro and spatial computing as a big bet for Apple and, in turn, a huge sign that the future of computing will be less on screens and phones and more integrated into the world around us,” says Alex Center, founder of Brooklyn-based CENTER. “As spatial computing becomes normalized and accepted by the general public, it will impact how we design for people. If the public interacts with websites, content, and brands in new and more dimensional ways, designers will need to adapt to consider how our work will be experienced in these media. The rules of design will not change, but where and how people interact with our work will force designers to think outside the box quickly.”

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At least in the case of the Vision Pro, it would seem that thinking outside the box is computing inside a virtual box.

Given the increased integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) across Adobe’s range, natural language prompts will likely be another feature designers use in the mixed reality space. Adobe recently added AI-powered features into Illustrator like Generative Recolor and Retype, Generative Fill in Photoshop, and Express.

It remains to be seen if Apple’s cracked the inherent issues with A/VR computing, especially the physical effects on users. VR sickness is a genuinely real phenomenon caused by the confusion of one’s brain thinking the body is moving while it’s still. Users of VR headsets commonly report eye strain, eye dryness, headaches, neck discomfort, and nausea. Since few people have spent extensive time with Apple’s XR headset, we don't know how long users can wear the Vision Pro before getting sick.

Like the first version of the iPad, it’s easy to look at the Vision Pro and dismiss it as a solution looking for a problem to solve. The iPad also perplexed many at launch. While a nice and shiny tablet, the iPad was too big to replace a phone and wasn’t powerful enough to replace a conventional computer. But over time, users, including some designers and artists, found utility as Apple iterated on the product, and software developers began supporting the iPad.

Perhaps too, over time, the Vision Pro will become another device in a designer’s toolbox. Users will play with Apple’s new—and expensive—device and contemplate ways to incorporate it into their workflow. If there are viable use cases for creatives, app developers like Adobe will surely need to add new features and support Apple’s entry into XR.

So, is the Vision Pro for designers? So far, it’s unclear if Apple’s headset is for anyone besides well-heeled gadget nerds. Apple’s shown us some neat, technically impressive uses of its inaugural XR device, but not much that decidedly transforms how we’ll compute in the near future.

At $3,500, Apple’s Vision Pro will have to have workplace utility beyond a massive display that requires wearing a bulky headset if it’s going to become a designing tool. Vision Pro’s price point puts it out of reach for students, junior designers, and smaller shops. 

Still, it may be possible that Apple has initiated the age of spatial computing, and prices will come down for the rest of us plebians with more modest budgets.


Images courtesy of Apple.