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Photo: Dave Gershgorn
Apple is diving into a new realm of technology with its groundbreaking virtual reality and augmented reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro. While priced at a steep $3,500 and not available until early 2024, this device has piqued our interest with its immense potential. This early announcement from Apple is unusual, but it allows developers ample time to create innovative apps for this new mixed-reality platform.
A Leap Forward in Mixed Reality
Mixed reality combines augmented reality, which overlays digital objects onto the real world, and virtual reality, which transports you to a fully digital environment. Most headsets in the past decade, such as the Meta Quest and HTC Vive, have focused on virtual reality, offering only a limited augmented reality experience with low-quality cameras. The more expensive Meta Quest Pro offers a glimpse of the real world, but the overall experience falls short. However, if the Vision Pro lives up to the promises shown in Apple’s demo video at the Worldwide Developers Conference, it could truly revolutionize this technology.
Up Close with the Vision Pro
Photo: Dave Gershgorn
Similar to other VR headsets, the Vision Pro completely envelops your head, immersing you in its virtual world. Positioned on the top right side of the headset is a digital crown, reminiscent of the Apple Watch. This crown allows you to control the amount of external reality you can see, like adjusting the brightness in a room. When the Vision Pro is in augmented reality mode, it reveals its most impressive feature: an external-facing screen that displays a live feed of your eyes inside the headset. This feature, called EyeSight, aims to make conversations with others feel less awkward while wearing the device.
Your eyes play a vital role in how the headset functions. By tracking your eye movements, along with hand gestures and voice commands, the Vision Pro grants you control. It even utilizes your eyes for authentication through a new function called Optic ID, scanning your irises to unlock the device.
Compared to other headsets, the Vision Pro boasts a sleeker design that brings your eyes closer to the screens for a more immersive experience. While the Meta Quest and HTC Vive accommodate glasses, the Vision Pro does not. As a solution, Apple has partnered with Zeiss to create thin corrective optical inserts that can be magnetically attached. The price of these inserts is yet to be announced.
The headset comprises four main parts: a machined aluminum body that houses the screens, the M2 processor, and the new R1 processor, which synchronizes the headset’s sensors. It boasts an impressive array of 12 cameras, five sensors (including lidar), and six microphones. The main unit is equipped with a soft facepiece called the Light Seal, which attaches securely via magnets. Additionally, the Head Band securely fastens to the facepiece. To power the device, the Vision Pro connects to an aluminum external battery pack, resembling the MacBook MagSafe or iMac power cable. This braided battery cable offers two hours of battery life, but you can also plug it into a power source for uninterrupted usage.
Unlike other headsets, the Vision Pro lacks controller accessories. Instead, it relies on eye tracking, hand gestures, and voice commands for input. The device also supports Apple’s Magic Trackpad, Magic Keyboard, and other Bluetooth devices.
Limitless Possibilities with the Vision Pro
Apple envisions the Vision Pro as an all-purpose tool. Whether you want to optimize your work environment with multiple virtual monitors, enjoy movies on a colossal 100-foot-wide virtual screen, or engage in FaceTime conversations with friends, this headset has you covered. Furthermore, it supports Apple Immersive Video, providing a 180-degree view of content paired with spatial audio.
One key advantage of the Vision Pro is its compatibility with the apps you already use on your iPhone and Mac. Safari, Messages, and Apple Arcade are just a few examples of apps that seamlessly transition to the headset. Although Apple has made some tweaks specific to the Vision Pro, ensuring that the experience is tailored to this new device. FaceTime, for instance, introduces a unique feature called a Persona, a 3D digital avatar that represents you during video calls. To create your Persona, simply scan your face during the setup process.
The Vision Pro operates on a new operating system, visionOS, and it has its own dedicated App Store. Apple anticipates a wide variety of apps to be available at launch, with “hundreds of thousands” of iPhone and iPad apps already compatible. Excitingly, Disney+ has confirmed that its streaming service will be accessible on the Vision Pro from day one.
This early announcement by Apple serves the purpose of giving developers ample time to create innovative apps that leverage the Vision Pro’s capabilities in both AR and VR. Apps could utilize the 3D camera to capture three-dimensional images and videos, offering users a whole new level of creativity and immersion.
However, the true test lies in the hands of users outside of Apple. Only then will we know the full potential of the Vision Pro and how comfortable it is for extended use. Headsets of this nature often lead to headaches or nausea. Even with powerful processing and advanced optics, a headset is useless if it induces discomfort after just a few minutes of use.
Early users who had a preview of the Vision Pro at the Worldwide Developers Conference were amazed by its engineering prowess. Marques Brownlee from the tech YouTube channel MKBHD was particularly impressed by the eye tracking, hand-gesture recognition, and seamless scrolling. However, he did express concerns about the weight of the headset, the lack of haptic feedback from controllers, and the surreal nature of the FaceTime Persona feature. Brian X. Chen, technology columnist for the New York Times, also found the technology superior to that of other headsets but experienced discomfort with the new FaceTime Persona.
The Price of Cutting-Edge Technology
Undoubtedly, the Vision Pro comes with a hefty price tag of $3,500, making it one of the most expensive VR headsets on the market. Gasps, groans, and laughter resonated throughout the room when Apple announced the price at the Worldwide Developers Conference. However, this price reflects Apple’s confidence in leading the industry with its advanced technology and the cost of producing custom hardware in relatively small quantities.
It is common for groundbreaking technology to have a high initial cost that gradually decreases over time as demand grows and manufacturing scales up. Early adopters and developers are likely to invest in any new product Apple releases, regardless of the price. Moreover, there is always the possibility that Apple will release a more affordable, streamlined version of the Vision Pro in the future.
However, the most critical aspect that remains unanswered is how the Vision Pro differentiates itself from existing Apple devices and competitors. The announcement provided a glimpse, but the true capabilities are yet to be fully revealed.
This article was edited by Caitlin McGarry.