Seeing your own spatial video on Vision Pro is an immersive trip – and I highly recommend it

Every experience I have with Apple's Vision Pro mixed reality headset is the same as the last and yet also quite different. I liken it to peeling an onion: I think I understand the feel and texture of it, but each time I notice new gradations and even flavors that remind me that I still don't fully know Apple's cutting-edge wearable technology.

For my third go around wearing the Vision Pro I had the somewhat unique experience of viewing my own content through the powerful and pricey ($ 3,499 when it ships next year) headset.

A few weeks ago, Apple dropped a beta for iOS 17.2, which added Spatial Video capture to the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max (the full version landed this week). It's a landscape-only mode video format that uses the 48MP main and 12MP Ultrawide cameras to create a stereo video image. I started capturing videos in that format almost immediately, but with the caveat that not every video is worthy of this more immersive experience (you can't be too far away from your subject, and keeping the phone level and steady helps). Still, I had a solid nine clips that I brought with me for my second and by far more personal Vision Pro Spatial Video experience.

I tried, during this third Vision Pro trial, to pay more attention to some of the headset's setup and initialization details. As I've mentioned previously, the Vision Pro is one of Apple's more bespoke hardware experiences. If you wear glasses, you will need to pay extra for a pair of custom-made Zeiss lens inserts – I provided my prescription details in advance of this test run. It's not clear how long consumers might have to wait for their own inserts (could Apple have an express optician service in the back of each Apple Store? Doubtful).

Not everyone will need those lenses, or have to endure that extra cost and wait. If you don't wear glasses, you're ahead of people like me, and likewise if you're a contact lens wearer.

Man using Apple Vision Pro

Not me wearing the Vision Pro, because Apple still won’t allow me to photograph myself wearing them. That said, pressing the digital crown is part of the initial setup process (Image credit: Apple)

Getting the custom experience right

Still, there are other customizations that I didn't pay attention to until now. The face cushion that rests on your face and connects magnetically to the main part of Vision Pro comes in a few different curve styles to accommodate the differing contours of of a range of typical human faces. I don't know how many different options Apple will offer.

One thing that's critical for a comfortable AR and VR experience is matching your eye's pupillary distance – the distance between the centers of your eyes. This was the first time I paid attention to one of the first steps in my Vision Pro setup. After I long-pressed the headset's digital crown, a pair of large green shapes appeared before my eyes. They measured the space between my eyes and inside the Vision Pro, and then the dual micro-LED displays and their 23 million pixels of imagery moved to match the space between my eyes. If you listen carefully, you might be able to hear the mechanics doing their job.

I also noted how the Vision Pro runs me through three distinct sets of eye-tracking tests, where I looked at a ring of dots and, for each one, pinched my index finger and thumb together to select them. It might feel tedious to do this three times (okay, it did) but it's a critical step that ensures the Vision Pro's primary interaction paradigm works perfectly every time.

Now, at my third wearing, I've become quite an expert at the looking and pinching thing. A gold star for me.

The Apple Vision Pro headset on a grey background

This cushion is magnetic, and detaches so you can get one that better fits your face. The band also detaches when you pull on a small, bright orange tab (Image credit: Apple)

Spatial computing is kind of familiar

Las Vegas panorama

Can you find me in this photo? (Image credit: Lance Ulanoff)

We AirDropped my spatial video and panorama shots from a nearby phone. It was nice to see how smoothly AirDrop works on the Vision Pro – I saw that someone was trying to AirDrop the content and simply looked at 'Accept' and then pinched my thumb and finger. Within seconds, the content was in my Photos library (spatial video gets its own icon).

When Apple's panorama photography was new in iOS 6, I took a lot of panoramic photos. I was tickled by the torn humans who moved too fast in the shot, and the ability to have someone appear twice in one trick panoramic photo. Apple has mostly cleared up the first issue – I noticed that fewer of my recent panos feature people with two heads. These days, though, I take very few panos and only had four decent ones to try with the Vision Pro.

Even with just a few samples, though, I was startled by the quality and immersive nature of the images. My favorite by far was the photo I took earlier this year from my CES 2023 hotel room with an iPhone 14 Pro. Taking these shots is something of a ritual. I like to see what the view and weather are like in Las Vegas, and usually share something on social media to remind people that I'm back at CES.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this one shot, taken from fairly high up at the Planet Hollywood Hotel, was a revelation. Not just because the vista which virtually wrapped almost around my head was gorgeous, but for the first time I noticed when I looked at the far-right side of the image a complete reflection of me taking the photo. It's a detail I never noticed when looking at the pano on my phone, and there's something incredibly weird about unexpectedly spotting yourself in an immersive environment like that.

A vista from Antigua was similarly engaging. The clarity and detail overall, which is a credit to iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max photography, is impressive. I viewed most of my panos in immersive mode, but could, by using a pinch-and-push gesture with both hands, put the panoramic image back in a windowed view.

Spatial view

Train spatial video

I promise you, this is much cooler when viewed on the Vision Pro (Image credit: Lance Ulanoff)

In preparation for my spatial video experience, I shot videos of Thanksgiving dinner, Dickensian carollers, walks in the park, model trains, and interactions with a friend's four-year-old.

Each of these videos hit me a little differently, and all of them in immersive mode shared a few key features. You can view spatial video on the Vision Pro in a window, but I preferred the immersive style, which erases the borders and delivers each video in almost a cloud. Instead of hard edges, each 3D video fades away at the borders, so there's no clear delineation between the real world and the one floating in front of your face. This does reduce the field of view a bit, especially the vertical height and depth – when I viewed the spatial videos on my iPhone (on which they look like regular, flat videos), I could see everything I captured from edge to edge, while in immersive mode on the Vision Pro, some of the details got lost to the top and bottom of the ether.

With my model train videos, the 3D spatial video effect reminded me of the possibly apocryphal tale of early cinema audiences who, upon seeing a film of an oncoming train, ran screaming from the theater. I wouldn't say my video was that intense, but my model train did look like it was about to ride right into my lap.

I enjoyed every video, and while I did not feel as if I was inside any of them, each one felt more real, and whatever emotions I had watching them were heightened. I suspect that when consumers start experiencing the Vision Pro and spatial videos for themselves they might be surprised at the level of emotion they experience from family videos – it can be quite intense.

It was yet another short and seated experience, and I'm sure I didn't press the endurance of the Vision Pro's external two-hour battery pack. I did notice that if I were about to, say, work a full day, watch multiple two-hour movies, or go through a vast library of spatial videos, I could plug a power-adapter-connected cable right into the battery pack's available USB-C port.

I still don't know if the Apple Vision Pro is for everyone, but the more I use it, and the more I learn about it, the more I'm convinced that Apple is set to trigger a seismic shift in our computing experience. Not everyone will end up buying Vision Pro, but most of us will feel its impact.

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Google Maps Immersive View just keeps getting better

Google Maps’ best feature, Immersive View, just got a whole lot better. You can now explore 3D maps of four new cities and over 500 new landmarks thanks to Google’s AI.

Immersive View is Google Maps’ souped-up 3D map, and it’s a solid free tool for helping to plan trips. Using AI, Google has fused billions of images together to create fairly realistic 3D maps of cities (including the newly released Amsterdam, Dublin, Florence, and Venice) and hundreds of landmarks (such as Sydney Harbour Bridge and Boston’s Faneuil Hall).

While you're soaring over these virtual locations Google Maps will highlight nearby locations such as cafes, restaurants and hotels. This more immersive perspective provides an easy-to-understand sense of size and scale compared to using regular Google Maps. You can even go inside some locations, using a Google AI called NeRF – this allows you to peek into select restaurants and cafes before you book online.

We particularly like Immersive View’s timeline tool. This feature will show you the expected weather – complete with virtual clouds, sun, or rain – and how busy you should expect the destination to be over the following days. Google Maps has always had this data, but Immersive View makes it a lot less tedious to scan through it to find the optimal times to visit particular locations on your trip.

The new landmarks and cities should be rolling out from today to Google Maps users on Android and iOS.

More Maps updates on the way 

Immersive View isn’t the only Google Maps feature getting an update.

Glanceable directions will be rolling out globally on iOS and Android later this month. Once you opt in to the service (Google doesn’t explain how you'll do this, but it’ll likely appear as a popup once the update goes live, and later will be found in your settings), you just need to call up directions and start walking, cycling, or driving to your destination – without hitting Start for in-depth directions or Live View for AR navigation.

Google Maps Glanceable Directions in action, your icon moves along the route, takes a detour and almsot a wrong turn before correcting it and arriving at the destination.

(Image credit: Google Maps)

As you move, your location marker will travel with you, and your ETA will update in real time, and you can even swap to a different route if you decide to travel a slower but more scenic way. Google says this tool is aimed at people who are familiar with where they’re going; they don’t need constant callouts saying ‘Turn here’, they just need to occasionally glance at their phone to make sure they’re still headed in the right direction. 

Next month, Google Maps users on desktop should look out for an update to Recents. Previously, this feature would show you the most recent destinations you’ve looked up in your current Google Maps session, but when you closed the Window this info would be lost. The upcoming update will enable you to see your recently visited locations from previous sessions, which should make it much easier to research potential places to visit on your next trip.

You can research hotels, landmarks, and other attractions across multiple sessions, then make a custom route or saved list when you've decided where you'd like to go. Plus, as you whittle down places to visit, you can remove them from your Recents list so that they aren’t cluttering up the list.

Looking for more ways to use Google Maps? Check out this list of 10 things you might not know Google Maps can do.

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Google Maps is getting a better Immersive View to help you plan trips

Google Maps is getting a big boost to its impressive Immersive View Mode to help you plan routes and trips using its bird's-eye view.

Announced at Google I/O 2023, which you can follow at our Google I/O 2023 liveblog, Google Maps Immersive View for routes will bring you a 3D view of your planned journey – for example, a bike ride or drive. This will give you a clearer real-world view of the neighborhoods you're going through, plus other information like traffic, air quality, temperature and more.

This all sounds a lot more useful than Google Maps' traditional overhead view, and could also be a very helpful tool for planning photography trips. But given that many of us are still waiting for the first version of Immersive View to roll out, it may be a while before you can start using it to plan trips.

A Google Maps Immersive View map showing a city

(Image credit: Google)

Google says it will begin rolling the feature out for a few cities this summer (in other words, between now and August), and will eventually cover 15 cities “by the end of the year”. These will include Los Angeles, New York, Miami, London, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Seattle, and Venice.

We've previously called Google Maps Immersive View a “next-gen Street View”. That's because it uses a combination of Street View and aerial imagery to give you digital recreations of cities in Google Maps, complete with real-time information. 

A Google Maps Immersive View map showing a city

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The fact that this is all coming to route planning, rather than just tourist attractions in major cities, is great news, and should make piecing together journey plans a lot more intuitive. 

Combine this with Indoor Live View, a separate feature that displays AR arrows over your real-world view, and Maps will soon become an even bigger essential for tourists and the perennially lost. 

But Apple Maps is also becoming a stronger rival thanks to features like Flyover view, and we'll want to see Immersive View roll out much quicker than it has done so far before declaring a Street View-sized success.

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