Apple Vision Pro from an autistic ADHD perspective

Apple Vision Pro from an autistic ADHD perspective

Apple’s annual World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC or Dub Dub to the cool kids who pretend they’re not cool) took place this week. It was a big one. Was it as big as the iPhone launch? I don’t think so, not for me anyway. The iPhone launch was something special. We all knew the rumours that Apple would be launching 3 devices, one of which was a phone, but the people who had leaked the rumours only saw parts of the story. It seemed like 3 devices were coming. Steve Jobs played the audience perfectly in his keynote speech. “An iPod. A phone. An internet communicator. These are not 3 things…” The Apple Vision Pro launch is close in that we knew pieces but seeing Apple walk us through it, well, it’s a different device to what we thought.

So, what is it?

Apple were clear that this is an Augmented Reality headset with the power of a M2 MacBook Air, possibly more powerful as it has a R1 (Reality processor) as well. It isn’t a device to play Angry Birds VR on, or for whatever the hell the Metaverse is. This is a device for editing Excel documents while pretending you’re working by a lake. Girls, gays and theys, I present… the future!

Casual snark aside, that’s a big deal for someone like me. Apple has created a device, a $3,500 (assume £4,000 device due to Brexit or Tories or both), that runs iPad apps from day 1 and lets you get real work done while allowing you to control 2 levels of sensory input. While the device has audio features, if you want to have full noise cancellation you need AirPods Pro. The AR feature allows you to turn the Digital Crown on the headset to dial up or down your access to the “real” world.

What this means is that for an autistic person with sensory issues, I can turn down my visual and auditory stimuli to concentrate on work. For someone with ADHD, you can turn down the volume on external distractions. 🤯 I use my AirPods Pro all day, every day because autism. Thankfully, I have an understanding partner. It’s not personal. It’s a medical issue that I have a workaround for. I can happily block out her meetings in our shared office space. It’s more complicated trying to block out visual stimuli, though.

I currently have a Mac fort where I’ve surrounded myself with computers to block out unwanted window light and the chaotic motion from another random human. Could the future be a desk with a headset and keyboard / mouse on, nothing more? Could this device create a space for me to work worry free? No stress from a messy desk or the light suddenly glinting off a shiny object that a cat moved. Always a calm space to get work done. Always. Can you imagine?

Realistically, that calm space is going to have window sized popup windows that will be intimidating AF. What happens when there’s a dialog box stuck in your face for 2 hours? When using Lightroom to edit photos, is reality going to become laggy? One neat feature that gets around that issue is that you can put the headset on, look at your main computer and then access through AR. The display on the computer darkens and a big Remote Desktop window appears floating in front of you. That way, the device doing heavy processing work isn’t the one giving you audio and video input. In theory, it should be a smooth AR experience. In theory.

Apple has done a lot of work to make sure this device is accessible, by all. I’m uncertain if they’ve consciously considered autistic people working in an AR/VR space and being suddenly scared by someone in their office / home touching them to get their attention. That would be a terrible way of interacting with an autistic person. Apple added a person detection feature so when someone walks over to you, you can see them. You’re not locked away in some VR metaverse. The headset will then show that person your eyes in real time, so they know you are aware of them in your space. Apple has tried to make this as comfortable to use as possible, not just physically but mentally too.

Apple calls the Vision Pro a “Spatial Computer”. It uses sensors to be aware of your environment and, as such, Apple has designed a tool with care about how it interacts with your senses. There is a level of attention to detail there, actual real-world thought, that I’ve not seen in any other headset. I’ve been to a few VR gaming sessions and while they’re great fun, there’s always this weird feeling when the disembodied voice of the operator starts talking to you. It isn’t just about how it breaks the immersive experience but the shock of it. “Who is this? Where are you? Are you next to me?” You are suddenly aware of a space you can’t visibly interact with. I feel like Apple has spent years waiting for the technology to be available to make an experience that is accessible as possible without the paper cuts of other headsets.

They are one of the best companies out there thinking about accessibility, along with Microsoft. A number of the ways you interact with the device are built upon accessibility features from other Apple products. This isn’t marketing or accessibility washing. They’re genuinely thinking about how a diverse range of people will interact with these devices. At least, I hope they are. It seems like they are from the way this device is designed.

Am I buying this device on launch day? No. I don’t have £3,500-4,000 to drop on a new bit of kit. I need to upgrade my main work machine first. Vision Pro 2.0? I think that’s still ambitious. However, if I did have the cash, I would definitely buy this on launch day. I’m genuinely interested to see how this device can help my autistic ADHD brain work. Are we on a path to a better world for neurodivergent people?

Unfortunately for me, this device may not be compatible with my brain. I get migraines triggered by the whims of fate, apparently. I used to think it was chocolate, then coke cola, then caffeine, then light bouncing off a window, then blood sugar, and now I have no idea. Maybe living inside an AR headset will be a massive trigger? It’s an expensive test. Also, if you suffer from anxiety, it may not be a healthy device to use. Fantastic. Guess I’m stuck in reality for a while longer.

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