Spatial computing will reshape our lives. The Apple Vision Pro is just the beginning

Apple’s Vision Pro has been released into the wild and it’s already sparking curiosity and discussion – not about what it can do but for what it promises; a glimpse into the future spatial computing could unlock.

6 February 2024
John Cottrell

Apple’s vision of spatial computing is distinct from virtual reality and augmented reality. It is not just about merging the digital and physical worlds; it’s about seamlessly integrating the digital into our human environment. While technologists might disagree on the exact definition of what constitutes “spatial”, the implications are clear: a transformative shift is underway that’s set to redefine how we interact with technology and how it interacts with our world.

Apple’s ambition is grand – envision lightweight glasses providing unintrusive digital walking directions or sharing 3D videos that make viewers feel present. The company’s avoidance of the term ‘virtual reality’, also underscores its unique approach. Unlike Meta’s vision of living in a virtual world, Apple aims to bring virtual computers into our real-world environment, fostering interaction rather than isolation. In other words, the goal is to create immersive 3D experiences through inconspicuous devices, offering a glimpse of what the future holds. The Vision Pro’s EyeSight feature, enabling eye contact simulation, further sets it apart. Apple’s deliberate branding as a “spatial computer” hints at a future that transcends bulky VR headsets, possibly paving the way for AR glasses.

As Apple pushes boundaries, the term “spatial computing” will become as ingrained in everyday language as mobile and personal computing. But it can be so much more. Spatial computing has the potential to be a transformative force that will change human-to-computer interaction and turn every interface into a spatial device. Moving beyond the confines of traditional towers and laptops, spatial computing introduces a new era where computers possess an awareness of your environment and interact with your orientation, gaze, and even subtle finger gestures. The journey began with smartphones, allowing us to pose questions about our surroundings and receive answers. As we transition from smartphones to smart glasses, spatial computing is envisioned as the next step. With instant access to information, directions, and translations, these spatial computers promise to simplify our lives and redefine how we perceive and interact with the digital world.

The future will be immersive, 3D, and spatial. Spatial computing will reshape our interaction with machines and blur the lines between the real and the virtual. It’s not just a marketing ploy but a realisation, representing a tangible technological evolution. Picture a future where spatial devices are seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. These advances go beyond the capabilities of current technology, resembling a supercharged version of what the Vision Pro is promising us; a measuring app, a translation tool, a recommendation guide, and a personalised audiovisual tutor. These spatial computing devices will replace traditional screens, computers, and even smartphones, becoming ubiquitous tools for communication, productivity, and entertainment.

As the technology matures, spatial computing is bringing us closer to the sci-fi visions we’ve marvelled at for decades. Imagine being able to interact with holographic displays or virtual objects overlaid onto your real environment, similar to scenes from science fiction movies like “Minority Report” or “Iron Man.” This level of immersion can make everyday tasks more engaging and frictionless. It can revolutionise communication by enabling virtual meetings and collaborations in immersive 3D environments. Users can feel like they are physically present with others, even if they’re miles apart. This concept resembles the holographic communication systems seen in sci-fi franchises like “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” where characters communicate as if they’re in the same room. In the meantime, AI algorithms can analyse the user’s surroundings and provide contextually relevant information or assistance in real-time. This integration of AI with spatial computing technologies brings us closer to the intelligent virtual assistants portrayed in sci-fi films

While its cost, at £3,500, may limit widespread consumer adoption, the Vision Pro marks the beginning of a new era. Positioned as more than a wearable computer with FaceTime and immersive cinema, it is revolutionary in its approach. The potential to replace screens, computers, and even phones is within reach, promising a future where technology seamlessly integrates into our daily lives. The Vision Pro may not be the ultimate spatial computer, but it’s a significant step towards the augmented and virtual layers of reality that we envision.