Apple has done it again. The $3,500 Vision Pro headset takes all the major computing trends of the past two decades, placing them around your eyes in a way that looks sleek and feels comfortable, and offers an intuitive interface that’s new and intimate.
Following Apple’s two-hour presentation on Monday, I was one of the first to receive a 30-minute private demo of the Vision Pro and had the chance to try out several features, including a “killer app” that isn’t shown. mentioned in the CEO Tim Cook’s keynote speech, watched by millions online.
Moving from app to app using the device could hardly be more intuitive thanks to eye and hand tracking. Click a button with your right hand and an iPhone-like home screen appears. Look at a photo or icon, then pinch your fingers together to “double-click.” You can scroll through photos with a swipe or zoom in as if a giant smartphone is projected in front of your face.
The device can easily switch between virtual reality, in which the wearer is completely immersed in a digital world, and augmented reality, in which images are superimposed on the real environment. With an Apple Watch-like watch face you can switch between these two modes manually or, in some settings, the effect is automatic: if a person is standing next to you, just look at them and their image will slowly appear and become clearer over time .
One of the features Apple failed to show off in its presentation was the 3D photos and videos the headset could capture. In my private demo, I could sit around a fire with friends or sit at a table while kids blow out birthday candles into eerie depths.
Gene Munster, portfolio manager at Deepwater Asset Management, said this part of the demo blew him away. “3D memories are going to change the way we remember things,” he said. “I don’t want to do a birthday party video again unless it is.”
Apple proclaimed a “new era” in “spatial computing,” suggesting that the Vision Pro for AR/VR could do what the iPhone did to revolutionize mobile computing.
Wall Street, however, shrugged. Apple’s stock fell less than 1 percent after the headset was unveiled with its hefty price tag that would likely make it unaffordable for many people. Still, industry experts were surprised by the sophistication of the headset.
“All the other VR companies are in deep trouble because Apple raised the threshold,” said Rony Abovitz, the founder and former chief executive of Magic Leap, a maker of augmented reality goggles. “They just put down a gauntlet for companies like HTC and Samsung and Meta to chase. They surpassed them all at once.”
Just days before the demo, I attended AWE, a major mixed reality conference in Santa Clara, where startups showcased all sorts of cutting-edge technology that hinted at a future beyond the smartphone. But nothing was a must-have, there were few devices aimed at consumers and they were not necessarily cheaper.
Magic Leap 2 goggles cost $3,200, while top-end headsets from Finnish group Varjo cost $6,500. I came away thinking that this kind of technology had a future, but a distant future. The Apple event changed that.
Apple managed to demonstrate a vision of AR/VR that felt here and now, in stark contrast to the avatar-filled “metaverse” envisioned by Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg.
“For many, the metaverse concept sounds and feels too far away, leading them to believe when that will ever happen,” says Sam Cole, CEO of immersive fitness app FitXR. “What we saw today felt natural, it felt obvious, it felt accessible.”
Deepwater Asset Management’s Munster said he was initially “shocked” by the $3,500 price and drafted a note to clients highlighting his disappointment. After using it, he admitted that his perspective had “completely” changed. “I think it’s priced right,” he said.
Analysts pointed out that the headset felt “familiar”. The design of the device has elements of the Apple Watch and AirPods Max headphones, while the visionOS software resembles that of the iPhone and iPad. It’s equipped with “Apple silicon” chips, further underlining how Apple’s push to bring the design and manufacturing of many of its components in-house gives it another advantage over rivals.
“What immediately struck me was the fact that anyone who uses an Apple product knows the device right away,” said Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight.
As impressive as it is, it’s hard to prove that a consumer “needs” this device. It was entertaining to watch movies, view photos, and make calls, and I was surprised by the clarity and ease of reading a PDF document. But Apple still has some major challenges to convince a mainstream audience to invest.
It will prove difficult to organize thousands of demos for potential consumers in Apple stores around the world. But I couldn’t find anyone who came away disappointed after trying it. Most testers were wildly enthusiastic.
“I saw the presentation and thought it looked good, but thought if we tried it we would see the glitches,” said Francisco Jeronimo, an analyst at IDC. “But my demo was absolutely perfect. Everything worked, as if the product was ready to hit the shelves. I was really impressed.”
Jeronimo added that after 20 minutes he was ready to take it off. Despite Apple’s “EyeSight” technology — which shows the wearer’s eyes to others in real life so the device doesn’t look antisocial — he wasn’t sure if he’d wear it in a social setting.
“Even if the battery lasts all day, I don’t see people interacting with others in their office, with a screen in front of your eyes,” he said.
Some analysts argued that the Vision Pro didn’t really offer AR because unlike, say, Magic Leap, the Apple device was immersive – everything was seen through cameras, even the room one was in, rather than digital images superimposed on a real world view.
But the semantics of this distinction probably don’t matter. The video feed latency is just 12 milliseconds – eight times faster than the blink of an eye – and your brain will have a hard time telling the difference between the screen in the headset and your physical environment.
During my demo, I spoke to two Apple employees in the same room, and a third appeared in a movable window through a FaceTime call. She was wearing the Vision Pro, but Apple made it invisible so I could see her entire face. Apple calls this a “persona,” which sounds cartoonish, but even when I asked her to flick her eyes back and forth or make her laugh, her responses were true to life.
To my embarrassment, I even screamed when a dinosaur emerged from the wall in the demo room, recognized my presence and tried to bite my hand. I was told this had been happening all day.
Apple has also developed proprietary cameras to capture 3D video of sports games and events such as a studio concert, giving the wearer the feeling that the action is right in front of them. It was impressive enough to make you wonder if Ticketmaster was about to be disrupted.
The disappointment that the headset wouldn’t go on sale until “early next year” was palpable. Akash Nigam, CEO of Genies, an avatar tools company, said he was surprised Apple made little to no effort to tailor the device to Gen Z consumers. For example, it said nothing about social media or dating apps.
But millions of developers now have months to build content. And once they do, Vision Pro’s potential could emerge in ways not even Apple understands.