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Why the Apple Vision Pro is so exciting and what it means for Edtech

(All images are screengrabs from Apple’s website and are not individually referenced)

It’s always exciting when Apple dives into something with a near-blank cheque. Indeed, if we wanted proof of the level of research and innovation that Apple put into the project, we’d need only look to its 5000+ patents.

Forming category-leading technology is what Apple does- they’re often not the first to the table, but they usually build the winning devices.

Naturally, gaps between Apple’s devices and their competitors close over time but by then, the category lead is (usually) firmly in Apple’s hands.

Richard Vincent, founder of FundamentalVR, a Brighteye portfolio company, commented:

“Apple’s entry into the market is really important. We’ve seen Apple’s arrival be the inflection point with previous devices. It has been a long time coming! Their entry validates the importance of immersive technology. Naturally, there are some slightly sceptical murmurs about how it will land, but we all need to look at the big picture: it’s fantastic that the world leader in fantastic, simple tech has entered the space. Our customers are already intrigued and asking how we will include it as part of our proposition in the future.”
“People generally overestimate the short-term impact of tech and underestimate the long-term impact. Short term predictions are often a little bit ambitious- adoption has certainly been slower than predicted by most pundits. In our space- in medical skills transfer and accreditation- there has been a building realisation of the value of immersive tech. Most people have now crossed the chasm and recognise its role, enabling our growing scale.”

Before we dive into our assessment of the Edtech opportunities enabled by the Vision Pro, we will walk through our interpretation of 1) four key tests the device needs to pass to enable mass adoption and 2) how the device overcomes key challenges encountered in previous headsets.

These challenges perhaps explain why Apple decided to try and create some distance between what has come before and what they have created. Rather than a ‘VR headset’, the Vision Pro is referred to as a ‘spatial computer’, a full computing device. When considering its capabilities, it’s hard to disagree.

We created some tests that the Vision Pro would need to pass to achieve wider adoption than previous VR headsets.

Getting cooler, but still room for improvement!

Adjustable immersion levels massively improves UX.

What’s telling about the progress the Vision Pro appears to add to the current headset space is that our four tests overlook the key issues with existing VR headsets:

1. Graphics quality- the hands that appear on previous VR headsets appear incongruous and disconnected from the human form

2. Causing nausea- the experience of moving within a sometimes blurry and unfamiliar environment left many users feeling nauseous after an extended period of use

3. Feeling isolated- given the complete immersion in the experience and the fact other users were viewable only as sims, many users claimed to feel isolated after extended period of use

Having read several reviews of the VisionPro, it’s clear that the VisionPro addresses many of these issues head on (excuse the pun), as well as defines a new standard on useability and what’s possible with a headset.

There are clearly a set of themes that reviewers pick out as particularly new and exciting.

- Mixed reality, combining the best of AR and VR. Gone (or at least significantly reduced) is the sense of isolation and nausea. With an adjustable ‘immersion’, a user can easily flick between being totally immersed, watching a 3D film in 4k on a 100ft screen to being back in the room and digging out some snacks, for example.

On mixed reality, Richard commented:

Mixed reality (with the Vision Pro) is something that’s particularly exciting- mixed reality has existed for a while but not on the levels of the Vision Pro with its simple interface and the ability to move in and out of VR, AR and reality which should open up a number of opportunities.
It’s an interesting opportunity for our offers, but is complicated by the fact we naturally want to control all of the inputs! There are a lot of scenarios in which we don’t want distraction from the real world because it’s not what you’d experience in the real world.

- Integration of VisionOS within the Appstore- it is only a matter of time until apps are built for VisionOS, at which point users will be able to access all of their favourite apps either in a format compatible with Vision Pro or a version that has been designed for the device. We can already picture the wireframes being drawn up in the shape of the headset’s screen…

This will be the true test of whether the Vision Pro is THE breakthrough device or simply another headset with too many challenges for wide adoption. Early partnerships with Disney and Marvel suggest that Apple recognises the need for quality apps from popular content providers.

Users are able to use the device as a computer, accessing emails, their diary, video, websites, and others with multiple apps open at once…

- Eye-tracking and 3D interface- in come the human eyes, gone are the controllers and back are the human hands. The user is truly in control of the device with their own physical movements, rather than the way they move and press buttons on controllers. This is a game-changing improvement in not only experience but practicality- you need to look after and charge one piece of hardware, rather than three.

Naturally, as with any new tech, there are obvious ‘imperfections’, but they are not insurmountable and will already be on the minds of Apple’s engineers. For example, the battery connected to the headset via a wire is sub-optimal, as is the battery life being ~2 hours and the still-clunky size of the headset.

But as first versions go for a potentially decade-defining personal electronics device, this is a stunning device.

Applications in Edtech:

As with ChatGPT and Bard et al, potentially era-defining technology, sectors and prospective users both test its limits and ask themselves, ‘what’s in it for me’?

Building on what came before:

Early adopters of VR headsets immediately recognised a key possible use in enabling new forms of training as well as bringing learning opportunities to people that would not otherwise have access. At Brighteye, we refer to this as ‘bringing the world closer’. For example, enabling children in inner-city Madrid to visit the Amazon rainforest or look back at earth from the surface of the moon. These experiences enrich learning and impact on outcomes varies by application – for instance, VR experiences for neurodiverse learners have been proven to boost outcomes.

There are also significant new opportunities for collaboration that are realised via the Vision Pro. Richard commented that:

In learning and education, there are lots of natural opportunities for collaboration. On the face of it, this is a great opportunity made more realistic by the Vision Pro. How this materialises remains to be seen, but I’m sure we will be able to realise them, based on the limited information we have received from Apple thus far.

When we consider the leading Edtech companies that are building primarily for VR, we point to the following:

1. Labster – Denmark – raised $151m total

Labster is a leading platform for virtual labs and science simulations.

Labster engages learners with game-based elements that inspire them to explore science. Students then apply their knowledge to solve a real-world problem within the context of a story. The tech works either via a VR headset or directly on a laptop browser.

2. Fundamental VR – UK – raised $30m total (Brighteye portfolio company)

Fundamental Surgery provides a scalable, portable, and collaborative solution to help deliver highly effective training programs for your business. Fundamental Surgery blends the simplicity of standalone, off-the-shelf VR devices with the precision of HapticVR™ without compromising on the quality of training.

3. Alchemy VR – US – raised $545m total

Alchemy has developed leading content using AR, VR, MR and AI to create unique experiences. From prehistoric animals with David Attenborough to space exploration with Tim Peake, Alchemy produce cross-platform content distributed globally.

4. Nearpod – US – acquired for $650m by Renaissance Learning

Nearpod develops a range of interactive tools and content for teachers to use with their students, including courses delivered in VR that can be worked through by groups of students, either via headsets or via web browsers.

5. Floreo – US – raised $12m total

Floreo VR is an approachable and simple therapy tool for neurodiverse learners of any age and ability. At home or in the office, with just a smartphone or VR headset, individuals enter into a virtual learning environment where they can practice communication and social skills at their own pace.

6. Red 6 – US - raised $111m total

Red 6 is a veteran-founded business that has re-defined the future of advanced training and interaction with digital content, by developing a revolutionary augmented reality technology that works outdoors, and in the most dynamic of environments.

There remain significant opportunities and applications of this technology.

Some quick categories that we’ve considered in addition to those set out by the companies above include:

1. Training in careers in which training is expensive (e.g. aviation, health)

Imagine training to be a pilot but rather than a similar that costs thousands and thousands of pounds, you just need a headset and some controls.

2. Training in careers that are hard-to-reach (e.g. mining, construction)

Imagine you’re training to work on an oil rig out at sea and you need to understand key maintenance and safety functions of your role- rather than being there, or trialling scenarios via acting, you can be immersed in those scenarios.

3. Training in careers that are dangerous (e.g. energy, construction)

Imagine you’re needing to simulate the feeling of being in space or a hazardous working environment like a mine and being able to immerse yourself in these environments during your training.

4. Improving the experience of home-schoolers

Imagine you are sat in a classroom with other children, interacting with the teacher, when in fact you’re at home. The home-schoolder is no longer the parent and can be a highly-qualified, expert teacher, also engaging in the mixed reality environment.

5. Improving the experiences of athletes and hobbyist sports enthusiasts

Imagine if Lebron James was coaching you to hit a jumpshot, or Tiger Woods was teaching you how to correct your slice… Imagine if the AI became so smart that they were able to tailor advice to you based on your preferences and also live as you tried to hit some shots.

6. Improving access to professional sports and broader arts events

Imagine you’re watching the NBA finals from a front row seat, an Arsenal match from just behind the dugout, or Hamilton on stage, all from a rural town in Bavaria.

We put parts of this set to Richard. He commented:

“Most of this list is doable today or at least very soon! Versions with current headsets would be possible but not necessarily in the high fidelity enabled by the optics and processing power of the Vision Pro. The ongoing AI and NLP work enables enormous opportunities when aligned with devices like the Vision Pro.”

The opportunities are immense and we can’t wait to meet the founders realising them.

As they do, they will certainly be taking heed of the Vision Pro’s requirements and OS as a new standard to meet and a new set of parameters to consider.

The hardware usually has to arrive before the software. Perhaps, with the Vision Pro, it has…


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