At E3D News we are very interested in AR as it relates to education. At Apple’s keynote address at the Worldwide Developer Conference today, Tim Cook introduced  the Vision Pro headset Apple is setting it up as a new platform to rival the iPhone or Watch. While Apple has long had designs for augmented reality, this is the first consumer product they have made to push into the market.

Apple is far from the first mover. Meta has been pushing the Oculus line of products since they acquired it and the company’s rename / rebranding was designed to put the vision on the metaverse, a word that was almost notoriously absent from Apple’s entire presentation.

This seems to be at least partially because Apple is positioning this as another wing of its ecosystem lock-in. It is a new product type but it doesn’t come with vastly different software offerings. The apps, at least for now, will mostly be phone / iphone apps. And Apple benefits from a robust ecosystem of iPad apps that can do productivity work almost immediately.

The other thing that Apple is doing differently is the interaction. There are no controllers, no mice, nothing to hold in your hands, although it does seem like you can pair a keyboard. Instead it expects you to pinch and swipe with your fingers to resize windows and use your eyes and focus to determine what to put processing power into.

It is also a heavily AR focused device which is passing through video from the outside world into your headset to keep you aware of your surroundings and creating fake versions of your eyes which project onto an outward facing screen as a cue to let people know when you are able to see and talk to them.

These three things make a compelling case for the Vision Pro, but that has to overcome the daunting price tag they are putting on this of $3499. The Oculus Quest 3 is going to be priced around $500 when it launches in the fall the Pro is priced at $999, both dramatically undercutting Apple.

But we are not a tech news site, and one of the most important parts of the Apple keynote were what was not said. There was a few seconds of one section of the video which posited an educational use, and other than that, education was not brought up.

Now part of that is the price tag puts it out of the range of most educational uses. The headset seems to be aimed at developers, which Apple could use as a means to build up a mixed reality ecosystem before it launches a headset at a price point that could be used in education.

But it is also a reminder that almost no one has developed a really useful way to learn in VR. Training simulations for highly predictable environments like driving and flying are the exception, but in almost all other cases, simply transmitting education in VR does not immediately mean that the learner absorbs a lot more information.

The other thing the Vision Pro does not have is any kind of video / HDMI in. The headset is capable of blowing up the screen of an existing Apple product and seems to allow for some interaction on that device but by maintaining the ecosystem, they are ensuring that this will not work with VR games or windows systems.

All of this limits what can really be done to learn on Apple’s device right now. Apple for many years was one of the biggest players in education because of the discounts that it gave to schools, partially as a way to get students used to using their computers at a young age. But since Chromebooks have come on the market, they have completely undercut what Apple can price its computers at, and Apple has mostly moved from the K-12 space to the College / professional space. In spite of the fact that the 15” Macbook Air, which was also announced today, is priced relatively low at $1299, it is still far outside of a mid range 15” chromebook at $500. So Apple does not seem to be focused on education at this time.

It is doubtless that they will make moves to offer education utility once they have a clear vision for what that is, but again, no one seems to right now. Flying through the cosmos has the ability to induce wonder but it can’t yet convey physics formulae. While the possibilities are stronger with certain kinds of educational games, those don’t exist at the quality they would need to yet.

One possibility that has been floated a few times and could have some validity is using this with students in an educational space. We aren’t done with disrupted learning, would students be able to pay attention and focus more if they were wearing a headset? It would certainly be an expensive route and I suspect that you wouldn’t ameliorate all of the behavior problems. While 1 to 1 devices was a popular strategy it is hard to say that it has led to dramatically better learning. 

For people involved in developing educational VR, It is worth it to watch the last 45 minutes of the keynote where they discuss the Vision Pro. Apple has Reality Kit that developers can use until the SDK is released. Apple has really pushed the envelope here and it is important to see where VR is headed. 

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