Apple’s Vision Pro will change the game forever

Apple’s Vision Pro headset was arguably its worst-kept secret, but still came as a surprise when it was revealed as Apple’s ‘One Last Thing” at the annual World Wide Developers Conference event in Cupertino.

While we already have VR and ‘mixed reality’ headsets, what makes Apple’s version such a big deal?

Rethinking what a VR headset can do

The answer is that Apple’s version is so much better, and not just the headset but the entire world that they invite us to experience. Also, unlike other VR headsets, the Vision Pro is not just an accessory that attaches to your computer, it is a stand alone “wearable spatial computer” in its own right. 

The Vision Pro envelopes you in a superbly detailed, crystal clear ‘mixed reality’ world. ‘Mixed reality’ is a combination of the physical world around you and digital information and content. You can choose if you want to see through the headset entirely or be completely immersed in a fully digital space. Or a combination of both. You can open up apps, web browsers, read documents, and just about whatever you’d have on your computer screen, and arrange them however you want. They can float around with your real office or home in the background, or you can darken the world and have one massive screen take up the space for watching videos and movies. You could even choose a Martian landscape and work from there. There’s also 3D spatial sound to further enhance the effects, as well as provide directionality to movies, games and music. 

In terms of communication, the Vision Pro’s internal cameras can create a 3D avatar of your face for video conferencing, and there’s group video conferencing too. You can send iMessages and emails, just as you would on your iPhone, iPad or Mac using voice dictaion. In fact, all of Apple’s apps should work inside the Vision Pro, thanks to Apple’s entirely new operating system: vision OS. This will make it easier for developers to make new software for the Vision Pro as well as porting other iOS apps MacOS programs.        

A future I love is being able to look at your Mac while wearing the Vision Pro, and whatever’s on the screen will appear as a display inside your virtual world on the equivalent of a 4K monitor. Text is razor sharp and clear, so you can get work done or read documents and web pages with ease.

Apple says that there are special ZEISS len inserts for those who have glasses too.

Interacting in a virtual world

One of the more hated things about VR systems is the cumbersome and clumsy VR controllers that you normally need to select things or move around in your virtual space. With Apple’s Vision Pro, you can navigate interfaces using eye tracking, and there’s hand motion tracking too. We’re not sure quite how this works yet but the goggle seems to sense your finger gestures, such as taps and flicks, which can be used to flick or select items. Eye tracking can be used to select icons or your active window. Lastly, just ask Siri to do things for you or to dictate text.

Another point of difference for the Vision Pro is not just how you interact with the virtual world, but how the world interacts with you. Using special cameras inside the goggles, a digital rendition of your eyes is displayed on an OLED screen on the front indicating to others that you can see them and the world around you. In fact, the ‘Eyesight’ feature detects when a person approaches you and that person will appear in your virtual world, and your eyes will appear on the goggles to them. The goggles will also allow you to see ‘through them’ whenever you want. During the presentation, Apple described the Vision Pro as the first Apple device to be “looked through, not at”.

Practically and design

The headset itself can work all day when connected to power via a single cable, plus there’s a high-powered battery option that will keep them going for a couple of hours. An unlike regular VR headsets, the battery is not attached to the goggles, as this would make them too heavy, so it runs along a cable to a battery pack that you can put in your pocket. Also, unlike many VR headsets, the Vision Pro does not need to connect to a computer, as it’s a stand-alone device.

Cutting edge hardware

The Vision Pro’s hardware design is a revelation as well. It features two micro OLED 4K displays for incredibly detailed visuals, with a total of 23 million pixels. It uses Apple’s own M2 chip, which packs a hefty computing punch without creating much heat or excessively draining battery life. Apple has also introduced a dedicated R1 chip, designed to process the signals from 9 cameras, 5 sensors and 6 microphones in less that 12 milliseconds. With very little delay, this can help reduce motion sickness often caused by VR headsets and creates realistic motion and a greater sense of realism in the 3D world.

Vision Pro from top

Design and comfort

The Vision Pro should be comfortable too and appears to be made with similar materials as used with the AirPod Max headphones. It has aircraft-grade aluminium frame, a digital crown dial interface, and uses soft, flexible materials for the light seal and straps. It’s designed to be modular to fit a wide range of face shapes and sizes too. Overall, they look great, albeit a little like space-aged ski goggles, but probably the best-looking VR headset so far.

Privacy and biometrics

To help protect your privacy, Apple says that information like what you’re looking at is not shared with Apple or 3rd parties, and data is kept at the system level on the device. There’s also a new ‘Optic ID’ biometric system that uses your iris to authenticate Apple Pay transactions, passwords and App purchases.

Price and availability

Pricing is $US3,499, and the Vision Pro will be out next year, according to Apple. There’s no word on Australian pricing or availability yet. This isn’t a great surprise as announcing them at WWDC will give app developers time to port their apps or create new ways to use them before launch next year. One thing for sure, it is expensive, and likely $4,500 in Australia or even more. Still, if you consider that it is your 4K TV, home theatre system, multi-monitored home office setup, video conference centre, gaming console and much more, the Vision Pro may be much more than the (hefty) sum of its parts.

Valens Quinn attended Apple WWDC 2023 in Cupertino as a guest of Apple Australia