VR apps may have a harder time on the Apple Vision Pro than expected due to a restrictive boundary system.
A detail in the recently released development tools for the Apple Vision Pro is currently causing skepticism among friends of virtual reality apps. These “fully immersive experiences” (Apple’s term for VR) could stop mid-game and display the outside world if users move too far away from their starting point.
“When a fully immersive experience starts, the system defines an invisible zone that extends 1.5 meters from the initial position of the wearer’s head”, the Apple documentation explains, “if their head moves outside of that zone, the experience automatically stops and passthrough returns to help people avoid colliding with objects in their physical surroundings.”
Apple Vision Pro: no free movement in VR?
1.5 meters account for around five feet, but the mechanism is said to intervene even earlier in VR applications. Once a person moves more than one meter away from the starting point, the system automatically makes all displayed content transparent. This is done to facilitate movement through the real environment.
The system can also interrupt the VR experience if people get too close to a physical object or move too fast. As these are safety measures of the new operating system visionOS, they seem to be globally active.
The upcoming headset is known to deliberately focus on Mixed Reality, which Apple calls Spatial Computing. The outside world captured by cameras and sensors is complemented by computer graphics, so that browser windows, apps or spatial game objects seem to float in the living room.
The use of hand and eye tracking instead of conventional VR controllers makes it difficult to port existing VR games. The restrictive boundary system further limits the application. Especially in motion-intensive fighting and fitness apps, such a system could severely disrupt the game’s flow.
Focus on Mixed instead of Virtual Reality
Hans O. Karlsson, founder and CTO of the agency Mimir, notes on Twitter that there would be “no true 6DOF” Virtual Reality on the platform. This should make sports games like table tennis or VR collaboration in construction companies, where participants walk short distances, more difficult.
— Hans O. Karlsson 🇯🇵🇺🇦🇸🇪 (@VRmaninJapan) June 22, 2023
Available VR headsets such as the Meta Quest have similarly narrow Guardian systems for confined spaces. However, they are primarily used as a makeshift solution. By default, Meta users draw the larger outer boundaries of their cleared field first, so that the outside world only fades in just before potential collisions.
We’ve reached out to Apple to see if or how developers can work around Apple Vision Pro’s boundary safeguards in VR apps, and will keep you posted. Of course, there is always the possibility that Apple will make the boundary system less restrictive in later updates.