What the Oculus Rift Inventor Thinks About Apple’s Vision Pro

Palmer Luckey, who invented modern VR, has some interesting thoughts about Apple’s head-worn spatial computer.

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CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 05: The new Apple Vision Pro headset is displayed during the Apple Worl...
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Palmer Luckey, the inventor of the Oculus Rift VR headset and founder of Oculus VR, which he sold to Facebook for $2 billion in 2014, is pretty excited about Apple’s $3,500 Vision Pro “spatial computer” headset.

Weeks prior to Monday’s WWDC 2023 keynote where Apple heralded the Vision Pro as the next platform for computing, Luckey, who is still A Huge VR Nerd, straight up said “The Apple headset is good.”

After the announcement, he reiterated the sentiment in a tweet with a GIF of Morpheus from The Matrix, saying the Vision Pro is “the one.”

Like me, Luckey had the opportunity to try out the Vision Pro in person, though he did so when the product was at an earlier stage, he said on an episode of Peter. H. Diamandis’ YouTube channel. The father of modern VR seems optimistic about our head-mounted computing future, even if the idea of wearing a computer on your face, blocked off from others, conjures up dystopian imagery.

When asked by Diamandis whether or not Apple nailed the Vision Pro, Luckey said: “They did basically everything, everything, right. They didn't do anything, anything, anything terrible. I mean, I think Apple's going after the exact right segment of the market that Apple should be going after.”

“I think if Apple had tried to go after the low-end of the market, that would have been a mistake. They are taking the exact approach that I had always wanted Apple to take and really the approach that Oculus had been taking in the early years.”

Luckey says that he tweeted in 2015 that “before VR can become something that everyone can afford, it must become something that everybody wants.” In that regard, he believes Apple is taking the right approach with the Vision Pro. “They're trying to go balls to the wall, the highest possible resolution, the highest quality possible displays, the best possible ergonomics. And they're going all in on that with little regard for it being affordable for everyone.”

Asked what he thinks was the most surprising announcement about the Vision Pro, Luckey said it was the fact that Apple went with an external battery pack. He said he agreed with the design decision and advocated for it at Oculus, but ultimately lost the battle.

“Getting the weight off of your head is so important, especially for the future. I think the real reason Apple got the battery off of the head is not because this device couldn't have had a battery on, let's say, the back of the headset and been fine. It's because they are setting that expectation in people that it's okay to have it off of the head so that in the future they can add more processing, they can add more radios, they can add more batteries to an external puck rather than keeping it in the headset because that's what's going to allow the Apple device to become basically a thin pair of glasses.”

One thing he seems to have a strong opinion on is the Vision Pro’s camera passthrough capabilities or “reprojection” as he calls it. Unlike optically transparent headsets such as Microsoft’s HoloLens or the Magic Leap 2, the Vision Pro uses myriad cameras embedded into its glass fascia to allow users to see through it. I said in my impressions that the visual fidelity is the best on any consumer headset thanks to its dual Micro-OLED displays with 4K resolution per eye, but it’s not quite indistinguishable from reality. It still looks like you’re looking through a piece of glass, albeit a very thin and clear one.

“There are quite a few people who think Vision Pro is just a stepping stone to optically transparent systems of the future, but I am all-in on reprojection as the future of human sight,” Luckey tweeted.

The tweet is a response to two heated discussions about the Vision Pro: the $3,500 price and the beautiful but still bulky form factor. Many people are of the belief that the Vision Pro is overpriced and with enough iterations, the real breakthrough face-worn computer will resemble transparent smart glasses capable of AR as opposed to ski goggles that use cameras to show a feed of what’s happening in the real world.

By shrinking the form factor to glasses, the price should come down with it, right? That’s the hope. But I agree with Luckey that this reprojection or passthrough might not be a stepping stone to AR glasses. This could be it.

Here’s Ben Thompson at Stratechery explaining it best, why looking through a screen instead of at reality isn’t all that bad:

In the early years of digital cameras there was bifurcation between consumer cameras that were fully digital, and high-end cameras that had a digital sensor behind a traditional reflex mirror that pushed actual light to an optical viewfinder. Then, in 2008, Panasonic released the G1, the first-ever mirrorless camera with an interchangeable lens system. The G1 had a viewfinder, but the viewfinder was in fact a screen.
This system was, at the beginning, dismissed by most high-end camera users: sure, a mirrorless system allowed for a simpler and smaller design, but there was no way a screen could ever compare to actually looking through the lens of the camera like you could with a reflex mirror. Fast forward to today, though, and nearly every camera on the market, including professional ones, are mirrorless: not only did those tiny screens get a lot better, brighter, and faster, but they also brought many advantages of their own, including the ability to see exactly what a photo would look like before you took it.

Maybe this sounds absolutely crazy, but this augmentation of the human sight as Luckey suggests, doesn’t sound terrible after the above comparison and context. Think about a phone or camera with a zoom lens; it can see farther than our human vision ever could. What if instead of greater clarity through a phone screen and photo, the enhancement simply happens in front of you. “Hey Siri, zoom and enhance!”

Enhancing human sight with a computer worn on our face could be more additive than we realize and even more so for people with eyesight impairments. Of course, there’s the whole concern about privacy. But that hasn’t stopped phone makers like Samsung from putting a 100x zoom into the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Apple isn’t a company that moves very fast. When it releases a new product with a new platform, it envisions it evolving over many years. You can draw direct lines between an iMac from 1997 to an M1 iMac, same for a PowerBook and a MacBook Pro, an iPhone 2G and an iPhone 14 Pro Max, an iPad and an iPad Pro. Time will tell if people accept a face-worn computer, but the overall shape and the ideas and technologies inside of the Vision Pro coming in early 2024 aren’t changing anytime in the near future. Apple might make future versions thinner and lighter and cheaper, but passthrough/reprojecting reality? That’s here to stay. Get used to it.

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