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APPLE is recreate what it did for your hands with the iPhone – but for your face.
I spent 20 minutes trying out the tech giant’s first attempt to do so: Apple Vision Pro.
It might look like a VR headset, but Apple is instead calling it the company’s first “spatial computer”.
These sci-fi goggles were unveiled this week in California at Apple’s annual WWDC 2023 event.
Despite being heavily leaked (and also not being the first VR, AR or mixed reality headset we’ve seen), Apple Vision Pro still caused a massive stir after the big reveal.
Notably – unlike Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta – Apple didn’t mention the metaverse once during its keynote. That’s not really the point of these $3,499 super specs.
Apple may well have quiet visions of all living virtual lives inside its goggles, but it’s not talking about them.
Instead, Apple wants to focus on all of the little ways that wearing Vision Pro can give you something that an iPhone physically cannot.
So I was quite pleased to give them a go and see whether the fuss is worth it.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours inside VR on a wide range of headsets, and the Vision Pro is as impressive as they come.
For a start, it looks good. It has a stylish AirPods Max design that is distinctly Apple.
And it’s quite small for an ultra high-end mixed-reality headset too.
Even the battery pack that dangles down and fits in your back pocket looks like bona fide Apple gear.
Wear it in
It’s also very comfortable and easy to adjust. You sort of forget you’re wearing it for the most part, initially anyway.
Only towards the end of my demo did I start to remember: “Oh yes, it would be better if I didn’t have to have these sizeable goggles strapped to my face to experience this.”
I can’t say whether it’s truly comfortable until we can get our hands on a review unit and don a pair for a few hours in one sitting.
This isn’t a problem exclusive to Apple, and it’ll almost certainly be solved by the industry eventually.
It’s a portable gadget, and will shrink over time.
For now, the Vision Pro about as good as it gets for comfort – and that means it’s very impressive.
During my demo session, I was able to get set up and try out some apps.
You’re able to see the room you’re sitting in, but a row of apps float eerily in front of you.
I tried out the Photos app where I enjoyed stunning and sharp panoramas, as well as spatial images and videos captured on the headset – offering a very cool depth effect that makes you feel like you’re sitting in the room with a memory. There’s nothing else quite like it.
I also had a go at multi-tasking, placing several apps around me.
You could have Messages open and your MacBook screen, and a photo of your family floating in the corner too.
Another fun feature I tried was called Environments.
These are a series of virtual spaces built by Apple that let you detach from the real world and immerse yourself in a far-off location.
I found myself at Oregon’s Mount Hood, fading in and out of the stunning vista using the Digital Crown.
An Apple staffer in the room began speaking to me and their figure faded gently into the scene – before disappearing again. Spooky, but a great idea.
Next in the demo was a one-minute Mindfulness meditation session.
I thought it would be difficult to relax with the Apple gear on my head and other people in the room watching me, but it was surprisingly peaceful.
By the end of the minute, I was ready to nod off.
Then I tried my hand at a FaceTime with another person wearing a Vision Pro headset.
Thanks to face-tracking, I could see their facial movements display on a lifelike “Persona” of the other person.
So we were able to speak very effectively on FaceTime, despite neither of us seeing each other’s “true” face – which would obviously be obscured by the headset.
Surprisingly, one of the most impressive demo experiences was watching a bit of Avatar 2 in 3D in a cinema environment.
I’ve watched loads of media in VR before, but what makes Vision Pro special is the visual fidelity.
It’s exceptionally sharp and clear, and presents depth very effectively.
I felt like I had the best seats in a 3D cinema screening, with no popcorn-munchers or chatty teens to disturb me. No sticky floors either.
Building on this is Apple Immersive Video, a new type of format that lets you experience what it’s like to be somewhere very special.
The most impressive was a courtside view of a basketball game that would have been very costly if I’d paid for tickets.
I’m not a big sports guy, but I can see how this kind of experience would be brilliant for fans.
Lastly, I got to try an app called Encounter Dinosaurs.
It began with a butterfly landing on my real hand (very impressive), and ended with me hanging out with startlingly convincing dinosaurs.
They responded to my movements, and moved around, towards and away from me – even as I shifted my own position.
It filled me with a childlike delight that an iPhone is physically incapable of offering.
Plenty of what Apple Vision Pro is offering has been done before.
But Vision Pro does a lot of it better.
The visual quality is exceptional, possibly the best in the industry.
And it’s really easy to use – an Apple hallmark – with a finger-pinch gesture that takes seconds to master.
Anyone could get to grips with the simple UI. Even people who might struggle to use an iPhone could probably get on well with Vision Pro.
Vision of the future
A lot remains to be seen when it comes to Vision Pro. After all, it’s still many months away.
For a start, we don’t know what the full suite of apps on Vision Pro looks like yet.
The headset will almost certainly live or die by what developers can do with it.
And incentivising app makers in the early days may be a struggle for Apple (though if anyone can do it, the iPhone maker can).
There’s plenty of time until release for people to create content for the system, thankfully.
We also don’t know how well the battery life will hold up (Apple claims two hours, but it will need to be tested).
And we’ll need to see how comfortable it is during prolonged use.
Pricing it up
In any case, the real niggle for most people will be the price.
For most of the world’s population – even in wealthy nations – paying $3,499 for any gadget is a staggering expense.
This is by far the biggest block for Vision Pro becoming the iPhone of your face.
It makes the pricey and impressive $999 Meta Quest Pro seem like an absolute bargain – a sentence I never thought I’d write.
And the cheap and very cheerful Meta Quest 2 is a bargain still, at just $299.99.
One day, it may be possible to justify not needing a TV, computer or any other at-home display by wearing an Apple headset.
That would massively increase the value of the goggles, of course.
But we’re likely years away from that being possible. The headset will need to shrink to become almost an afterthought.
I like to imagine one day we’ll simply wear regular Apple eyeglasses that perform similar feats to the Vision Pro.
But that will almost certainly take decades – and require significant leaps in computing, vision and battery technology.
The good news is that Vision Pro is just the start for Apple.
It’s easy to imagine cheaper units with trickle-down technology, and eventual price cuts for the top model.
After all, the name Vision Pro implies an eventual…Vision.
For a demo of what Apple can do with mixed reality, Vision Pro is a clear success.
It’s a shame that so few people will be able to buy one, but it’s unlikely that Apple’s Spatial Computing offerings will be limited to the cash-flush forever.
We’re also expecting much more from Vision Pro between now and release.
Once developers begin making apps for Vision Pro, its true worth may be revealed.
And this value will grow over time.
Think of the quality of apps on the first iPhone versus what’s on offer today. It’s a different world.
The likes of Apple Vision Pro will be very different in years to come, and likely far more impressive.
It’s not clear whether Vision Pro will become the must-have iPhone for your face just yet.
But it seems to be a very good start. Virtually incredible.