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Sharing a Vision Pro with Someone Else Is Too Hard

Adi Robertson writes for The Verge about the Vision Pro’s lackluster support for multiple users and how hard it is to share the device with someone else:

The Vision Pro is $3,499 and only one person in your household can ever use it fully, which makes no sense at all. The privacy issues are technically there on the Vision Pro — letting anyone else use it without setting restrictions in guest mode grants them access to everything you’ve got on the headset, including your messages. But as my experience demonstrates, they may not even be able to use it well enough to get that far. You can start a guest session by holding the Vision Pro’s left-side hardware button for four seconds, but you can’t store a second user’s information so they can log in quickly next time without calibration. Basically, imagine if every time you passed an iPad to somebody else in your family, they had to spend a minute poking colored dots.

The worst part of using the Vision Pro for the past two weeks has been trying to get someone else in my family to use it. As a novel type of computer that almost demands to be tried by different people in your life, the lack of multi-user support at launch is a major cause of friction for me right now. I’ve been able to get a separate set of light seal and cushion for Silvia and my mom, but the problem is visionOS. There is a guest mode, but every time someone other than me wants to try the Vision Pro, they have to do the eye setup process from scratch. It gets annoying quickly without the ability to save calibrated presets for other people.

In the demos I’ve conducted for people in my family over the past week, I’ve also realized how hard it is to guide someone else through visionOS for the first time. I wish Apple had built a dedicated “demo app” for new users who try the Vision Pro – sort of like a pre-installed (and interactive) version of Apple’s guided tour, which is also very similar to the demo I had at WWDC last year.

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Welcome to Weird

Today, Chance Miller reported for 9to5Mac that the progressive web app (PWA) issues iPhone users in the EU have been seeing throughout the iOS 17.4 beta cycle are indeed intentional, breaking changes. The evidence is new developer documentation that added a Q&A section dealing with web apps. As Chance explains:

One change in iOS 17.4 is that the iPhone now supports alternative browser engines in the EU. This allows companies to build browsers that don’t use Apple’s WebKit engine for the first time. Apple says that this change, required by the Digital Markets Act, is why it has been forced to remove Home Screen web apps support in the European Union.

The upshot of Apple’s answer to why PWAs no longer work in the EU is that it would be hard to implement the same thing for other browsers, few people use PWAs, and the Digital Markets Act requires browser feature parity, so they took the feature out of Safari. Each step in that logic may be true, but it doesn’t make the results any more palatable for those who depend on web apps, which have only grown in importance to users in recent years.

For anyone who was there when Steve Jobs declared web apps a ‘Sweet Solution’ when developers clamored for Apple to open up the iPhone’s OS to native apps, taking them away in the face of regulations that force Apple to open up to alternative browser engines carries a heavy dose of irony. It also illustrates that when the motivations behind software design are driven by lawyers and regulators, not market forces, things get weird. And as iOS 17.4 shows, EU-iOS is solidly in weird territory.

PWAs may not be a top 10 feature of Safari, but that’s at least partly the result of the company’s own decisions because it wasn’t until recently that PWAs became viable alternatives to some native apps. Web apps aren’t going anywhere, and choosing to eliminate PWAs from Safari instead of doing the work to extend them to all browsers runs counter to the open web and the momentum of history. I hope Apple reconsiders its decision.

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It’s Time for Apple to Get Weird

Speaking of weird things: I’m on the record with saying that I’d love to see Apple get weird with some of their products, so obviously this story by Jason Snell at Macworld resonated with me:

While I admire the great care Apple takes before it brings a product to market, I do sometimes think that the company is missing out on some potentially great products because they’re not willing to get weird and risk failure. Consider the original MacBook Air, which was deeply weird but led to a second-generation model that became the template for Apple’s laptop design for the next decade!

The technology already exists today for Apple to create some wild stuff, the likes of which we’ve never seen from them. The Vision Pro has broken the seal. Let’s get weird, Apple.

As a longtime proponent of Weird in my computing life (I mean), I love that Apple released the Vision Pro in its current form: it’s a weird product with tons of rough edges and I want to make it my main computer. But, like Jason suggests, there are so many other product categories where I’d like to see Apple try and make something weird and wonderful. I have some experience with Android foldables, including some recent ones, and while I like the form factor a lot, I can’t help but think how glorious an Apple device that unfolded to become a larger tablet could be.

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Can You Use a Headless MacBook Air with a Vision Pro?

Luke Miani (who runs a great YouTube channel I’ve been following for a while) has created the sort of beautiful monstrosity I would absolutely consider for my own workflow: he was able to remove a display from an M2 MacBook Air and use the remaining “macOS slab” as a fully functioning computer for the Vision Pro’s Mac Virtual Display mode.

If the sentence above doesn’t make any sense to you, go watch the video first:

The idea of using headless MacBooks has been around for a while, but I was wondering if it’d find new life with the Vision Pro and the ability to virtualize a Mac display or use Universal Control with it. Which is why I’m very glad that Miani tried this first and confirmed that, yes, a headless MacBook Air totally works as a very expensive Vision Pro accessory.

The reason I’m so fascinated by this project is that I find the current keyboard/trackpad setup on the Vision Pro lackluster. If you don’t want to use a Mac in the middle, your best bet is to get an accessory like a Twelve South MagicBridge to hold a Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad together. However, as I shared earlier this week, that accessory’s form factor is not ideal for lap usage:

I’m waiting for two different “trays” that promise a laptop-like configuration, but as I’ve been told by others online, those don’t fix the fact that the desktop Magic Trackpad doesn’t offer the sort of palm rejection features typically found in Mac laptops.

Which brings me back to Miani’s wonderfully weird and amazing experiment: what if the input portion of a Mac laptop could become a more portable and accurate input method for the Vision Pro, with support for Mac Virtual Display when needed? What if a keyboard computer (Apple II says hi) could be used with the Vision Pro or docked at a desk with a Thunderbolt hub and external monitor?

Realistically, Apple should make this kind of accessory and I’m so surprised that their answer for people who want to work solely on a Vision Pro is “buy the keyboard and trackpad from a few years ago that still have a Lightning connector”. I’m not going to do this to my own MacBook Air. But you have no idea how tempted I am to try.

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Apple’s iMessage Service Will Not Be Regulated under the EU’s Digital Markets Act

The EU has decided that Apple’s iMessage service is not a core platform, meaning that it will not be subject to regulation under the Digital Markets Act (DMA). Jon Porter writing for The Verge:

The decision is the culmination of a five month investigation which the Commission opened when it published its list of 22 regulated services last September. Although it designated Apple’s App Store, Safari browser, and iOS operating system as core platform services, it held off on making a final decision on iMessage until an investigation could be completed. A similar investigation into iPadOS is ongoing.

In the same press release, the European Commission also decided against designating Microsoft’s Edge browser, Bing search engine, and advertising business as core platforms subject to the DMA.

As you may recall from our prior coverage, Apple’s Safari browser, App Store, and iOS are all subject to the DMA, but the EC deferred making a decision on iMessage. In the interim, Apple announced it would support the RCS messaging standard that will exist alongside iMessage in Apple’s Messages app and will include several features that previously were unavailable to non-iPhone users who messaged iPhone users. It’s likely that Apple’s decision to incorporate RCS, which the company says is coming later this year, and iMessage’s relatively small European market share played a role in the EC’s decision, although the reasoning behind the decision was not shared by EU regulators.

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Screens VNC App Now Available in Compatibility Mode for visionOS

Just yesterday I was looking for ways to VNC into my gaming PC because I wanted to stream Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth (an amazing game that you should play) on my Vision Pro using my new NDI encoder (I understand this is a very Ticci phrase; more on this topic soon).

Anyway, I went looking for Screens, my favorite VNC client, on the visionOS App Store, and it wasn’t available. I was surprised by its absence, but I just assumed the folks at Edovia were working on some fixes for the app running on the Vision Pro. I downloaded Jump Desktop, which worked pretty well, but I’ve never been a fan of the Jump Desktop UI, and I’d rather use Screens everywhere.

Right on schedule, Screens for iPad has now been made available on visionOS in compatibility mode. This is excellent news since I can now use Screens on all my Apple devices to quickly connect to my PC and Mac mini server; you can also check out how Screens’ trackpad mode works with visionOS’ gesture system in this blog post.

And once again, you should check out Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth if you haven’t yet (I covered it on Unwind and this episode of Into the Aether about it is a great listen too).

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MacStories Unwind: Like a Self-Reliant Final Fantasy Dragon

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This week on MacStories Unwind, Federico recommends the Final Fantasy VII Rebirth demo and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, while I enjoy Self Reliance on Hulu.

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“Wherever You Get Your Podcasts” Is a Radical Statement

I thoroughly enjoyed this story by Anil Dash on how the openness of podcasting (a topic I’ve covered before) has proven so resilient over the years and is, in fact, more relevant than ever in the era of federated social networks:

But here’s the thing: being able to say, “wherever you get your podcasts” is a radical statement. Because what it represents is the triumph of exactly the kind of technology that’s supposed to be impossible: open, empowering tech that’s not owned by any one company, that can’t be controlled by any one company, and that allows people to have ownership over their work and their relationship with their audience.

Side note: this is the first post I’m writing and publishing on MacStories directly from the Vision Pro, which I received this morning. A lot more to follow soon – including wherever you get our podcasts.

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The Apple Vision Pro Developer Strap

Jeff Benjamin writing for 9to5Mac has a comprehensive breakdown on what the Apple Vision Pro Developer Strap can and can’t do. One of the primary benefits for developers is capturing video. As Benjamin writes:

The Developer Strap also lets developers capture a direct video feed from Apple Vision Pro via a wired USB-C connection using Reality Composer Pro. Files transfers of the captured feed occur via the direct USB-C connection. Users without the strap can still capture these feeds but via Wi-Fi only.

Benjamin also explains how to use the strap to access Recovery Mode:

You can also restore visionOS using Recovery Mode via the wired connection made possible by the Developer Strap. This includes downgrading from visionOS beta releases.

My experience is in line with Benjamin’s. The Developer Strap may make capturing short videos and screenshots easier, but it can’t do much else.

I will add, however, that I was contacted by a MacStories reader who tipped me off to one other thing the Developer Strap can do, which is act as a video source for QuickTime. This works a lot like capturing screenshots and video from an Apple TV via QuickTime, and the advantage is that you can capture more than the 60-second cap imposed by Reality Composer Pro. That’s great, except that the capture is foveated, meaning that the video recorded will be blurry everywhere except where you’re looking.

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