The spirit of new devices

Friday, January 12, 2024

Comments: 15   (latest January 23)

Tagged: steam, steam deck, valve, apple, apple vision pro, vr, spatial computing

I see that Apple's new headset (I can't say "Apple-Vision" without smirking) is available next month.

(If you click on that Apple-Vision link, you wanna wait for the Apple to boot up and then type RUN APPLEVISION. Unmute the sound too.)

Eh, look. I am a person who loves a new toy. I'd love to play with this new thing. But I'm not going to buy one. $3500 is out of my price range for new toy vibes.

To be sure, it's not just new toy vibes. I can tell you exactly when I realized that Apple was onto something with this "spatial computing" business. It was last summer, in Pittsburgh, the day before NarraScope got going. I was trying to sort something out on the web site -- I think it was labelling which talks would be presented remotely. I'm hunched over a 13" MacBook in my hotel room, cross-checking three spreadsheets and a JSON file, plus an SSH window and a browser to preview the result.

And then, of an instant, I imagine making this Cassandra-the-Librarian whoosh gesture and flinging those six windows all around me, around the hotel room. I could just sit in the middle and see everything.

That's Apple Vision Pro in a nutshell. It's a solid idea. But I only need that whoosh once a year, at best, and $3500 just isn't the right price for it. I will be interested to see the second-gen model.

I'll also be interested to see how the headset spreads. I remember the Apple Watch and the Airpods had their definite moments of "Oh, that person on the subway has 'em, it must be real." I remember the same moment for the iPad in 2010, in fact. The devices were self-advertising.

The headset ain't. It's not a wear-in-public device. I know people have been making "Glasshole" jokes since the reveal, but in fact Apple's marketing has been extremely deliberate. They never depict someone wearing the headset in public. People wear them in their impeccably furnished homes, or maybe in the office with a couple of coworkers nearby. One shot of an airplane traveller donning a headset for privacy.

But seeing one on the street -- that idea is carefully out of bounds. I mean, I live in Camberville, so I'm going to run into someone wearing one in public. But mostly, no. Apple Vision will hide away in people's home offices. You may not even see one when zoom-chatting with someone; the headset is supposed to digitally erase itself from the face. (Though that may not work on launch -- "feature still in beta".)

Capturing spatial video in public? The headset may have a recording camera, but what Apple has announced is that you record 3D video using your phone. Same way everybody has been recording video for the past decade.

Expect a year of news stories like "Apple Vision -- is it a flop?" (There's an insatiable market for such stories, going back to the first iPhone.) I think it will be a hit, but not like other Apple hits.

Speaking of new toy love, I owe my faithful readers a followup on the Steam Deck. You recall I stumped pretty hard for the idea. I pre-ordered the Steam Deck as soon as I could, waited a year (supply chains, whee) and then it arrived in 2022.

And I used it! For a week. Since then... um, it's sat on the shelf.

A Steam Deck sitting on top of its carrying case on a shelf of miscellaneous tech junk. Sad and slightly dusty.

I should have known, really. All my productive activity from blogging to email to code to art winds up on my desktop Mac. I could migrate some tasks to a tablet, but why would I? The Mac has better screens and I'm comfortable in this chair.

In exactly the same way, all my gaming winds up on the desktop Windows box. (Except for a few mobile games, but that list has stopped growing.) It's a good box, the monitor is big enough, and I'm comfortable in this chair. Same chair -- I just roll it to the other desk.

I have a lovely couch and a reading chair, but do I wind up playing games on them? It seems not. I have never packed the Steam Deck for a trip. So that experiment has quietly failed.

I certainly don't regret buying the Deck. $680 is well within my new-toy budget limit. I was able to test Meanwhile and Hadean Lands on the device. (Spoiler: Meanwhile worked great, HL not so much.) If I ever change my mind and decide to get hooked on a couch game, the thing is waiting for me.

I still think the Deck was a winning move for Steam, both for getting a foot into the mobile gaming market and for solidifying Proton/WINE support as a standard for developers. It is true, though, that I've never seen one on the subway.

Ah well. More IGF reviews tomorrow, I promise.

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