IT HAS BEEN BARELY a week since the Apple Vision Pro was released in the US to the public. Orders got delivered and soon the online world was replete with the kind of things that this virtual/ augmented reality headset, that Apple calls spatial computing, can do. Arthur C Clarke, the science fiction writer, once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. We, who live in the present, don’t perceive it as magic because it comes to our consciousness in graded degrees. Imagine going back just 50 years, say 1973, in India. Phones were around but not many could afford it and even they had to wait for years to get a connection. If you gave one of them even a rudimentary smartphone, which every second person in India has, from cities to villages, and they can see the face of someone from hundreds and thousands of kilometres away talking in real time plus see movies, pay the local grocer, find out whether it will rain tomorrow, and so on, it would be magic to them.
The period required for this phenomenon is getting scrunched. To the person in the 1970s, a plane in the sky is not magic but it is to someone in the 1870s. The Apple Vision Pro will look like magic to even those a decade ago. Because, now, the reality that is being manipulated and captured is in three dimensions using more of our senses. Even those who bought an iPhone when it first came out would have been hard put to imagine what the Vision Pro does. You can see a movie in a phone but with this headset, you can be in the middle of a theatre watching a movie. Or you can be on top of a mountain watching it. You can have a screen with a work presentation nearby and just next to it, also be part of a conference call. Everything can be done all together within a field of experience that inches close to the real thing.
It is a clunky device as of now and it might even be an open question whether Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, who was a fundamentalist when it came to aesthetics and simplicity of usage, would have allowed the Apple Vision Pro to be launched in its current form with a dangling battery that needs to be put in the pocket if you want to be mobile with the headset. But this is the first iteration and it is far ahead of other Virtual Reality headsets, and the richest company in the world is doing it and every one of the other competitors with bottomless pockets, like Meta and Alphabet, will now be following suit and Apple itself will be improving on it every year. And then, in a few years, maybe a decade or two, we will be in the world of science fiction with maybe just contact lenses that do all these things. Except that it will seem all too natural to us by then.