Recent discoveries by developers working with Apple’s visionOS software development kit have revealed that Apple isn’t going for room-scale VR with Vision Pro—something that will potentially frustrate users hoping for a high-end VR headset to compete with offerings from Meta and others.
As reported by 9to5Mac, Hans Karlsson of creative marketing agency Mimir lamented last week on Twitter that visionOS pulls users out of immersive VR when they move more than 1.5 meters away from the virtual environment’s origin point, saying that Apple has thus “crippled VR” and made it so the platform is only for “couch potatoes.” This wasn’t new information, though; Apple’s documentation for visionOS developers revealed this was the case during WWDC. The documentation reads:
When you start a fully immersive experience, visionOS defines a system boundary that extends 1.5 meters from the initial position of the person’s head. If their head moves outside of that zone, the system automatically stops the immersive experience and turns on the external video again. This feature is an assistant to help prevent someone from colliding with objects.
Around the same time, people discovered that Apple also yanks you out of any immersive environment if you start moving too quickly in any direction. visionOS will show users a message stating that they are “moving at an unsafe speed” and that “virtual content has been temporarily hidden until you return to a safe speed.”
So much for room-scale
Developers of VR apps and games typically categorize experiences into three categories: seated, standing, and room-scale. The former two limit users’ movement to just a couple of feet in any direction, while room-scale allows the user to walk around a large space. Some kinds of experiences are only possible at room-scale, so Kerlsson and other commentators on this are right when they say this limits Vision Pro’s prospects as a VR headset compared to some other devices.
These safety features will prevent the porting of some popular action games we’ve seen on PC VR that require walking around the room, as well as experiences that allow you to look at large objects contained completely inside a virtual space, like VR car shows, some museum-like experiences, and so on.
Even in the world of PC VR, though, not all headsets, apps, or games are designed with room-scale in mind. In fact, most people don’t have the space for or interest in room-scale VR, so it has long been a niche within a niche. That’s too bad, of course, because some of the coolest VR games only really work at room-scale.
These safety features—which appear designed to prevent users from crashing into walls and the like—make it clear that Apple has no interest in joining the ranks of room-scale VR solutions with Vision Pro.
The limitation doesn’t seem to apply to AR in the same way
There is one major point I haven’t seen mentioned much in discussions about these limitations, though: when I used Vision Pro at WWDC, I could walk around and interact with objects more than 1.5 meters away from my origin point in AR. The way the safety features work, they end or pause any fully immersive experience when you leave the contained space. But during the Vision Pro hands-on demo, I walked at least two or three meters away from the couch where I started to take a closer look at a dinosaur on a wall on the far side of the room with no interruption.
Vision Pro’s central feature is a knob that allows you to adjust your immersion levels, but there are constantly things that take you out of full immersion, whether it’s safety features like these or a person coming up close to you to talk to you. Even when you’re going into an immersive experience, the real world is ready to intrude at any moment—and it will. In that sense, it’s not a very good device for leaving the world behind in favor of immersive fantasy.