Will Vision Pro change or enhance the book reading experience?

8 June 2023

A few days ago Apple unveiled its much anticipated spatial computer headset device, Vision Pro. According to Apple, the product is “a revolutionary spatial computer that seamlessly blends digital content with the physical world, while allowing users to stay present and connected to others.”

This assertion is borne out by American Apple/tech blogger John Gruber, who briefly tried out a test version of the Vision Pro, on the sidelines of this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC):

First: the overall technology is extraordinary, and far better than I expected. And like my friend and Dithering co-host Ben Thompson, my expectations were high. Apple exceeded them. Vision Pro and VisionOS feel like they’ve been pulled forward in time from the future. I haven’t had that feeling about a new product since the original iPhone in 2007. There are several aspects of the experience that felt impossible.

If you have even the slightest interest in the Apple headset, I suggest you read Gruber’s article in full. While the device is capable — or eventually will be — of doing all sorts of things, including offering an almost immersive movie watching experience, the rendering of (could we call them) fantasy scenarios caught my eye:

Then, a dinosaur — a velociraptor-looking thing, seemingly about 9 or 10 feet tall — approached the “portal” in the wall and came halfway through into the room. I was invited to stand up from the couch and approach it. […] The dinosaur was not pre-recorded. It reacted, live, to me, keeping eye contact with me at all times. It was spooky, and a significant part of my own lizard brain was instinctively very alarmed. I got extremely close to the dinosaur’s head, and the illusion that it was real never broke down.

Aside from the dinosaur simulation, Gruber also saw an excerpt of James Cameron’s 2022 movie Avatar: The Way of Water. I’m not really a fan of 3D films, I sometimes think they’re an eye-straining gimmick, but Vision Pro sounds like the platform 3D movies have been waiting for:

Cameron shot Avatar 2 with state-of-the-art 3D cameras, and the 3D effect was, as promised, better than anything I’ve ever seen in a theater or theme park. I don’t generally like 3D feature-length movies at all — I find myself not remembering them afterwards — but I might watch movies like Avatar this way with Vision Pro. But even though Avatar is 3D, it’s still a rectangular movie. It’s just presented as a very large rectangle with very compelling 3D depth inside that rectangle.

While a completely different medium from dinosaur simulations and 3D films, the possibilities Vision Pro presents made the book reader in me wonder how, or if, books, or novels, could be consumed on the platform. Books don’t exactly constitute digital content in this context, but still, could the way they’re “read” be somehow augmented, or enhanced, on a headset like this?

Might a book optimised for Vision Pro consumption combine an audiobook experience with visuals other than (but not excluding) pictures or illustrations. “Video” vignettes perhaps? And then audio. What about some background sound? Or might that be something book readers would resist?

While not every novel published would be adapted for Vision Pro — for obvious reasons, cost being one — I can’t imagine ebooks, which one or two people will read on their Vision Pros, not ever being altered or embellished, in some way for the platform.


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