Apple’s Vision Pro headset could change your life… but don’t get excited just yet

Apple’s headset is intriguing – but it looks like it still needs work

I’ve been covering Apple products since the first iPhone emerged and I’ll be honest: Apple’s new Vision Pro headset has got me more intrigued – perhaps even excited – than I’ve been in a long while.

The reason is simple: virtual reality (VR) has long promised to be a game-changing piece of technology, and yet it has failed to do so in over a decade since VR headsets became more easily available to buy.

Apple has been rumoured to be joining the VR party for years, and the length of time it’s been developing this headset, combined with its design prowess, means that virtual reality might finally be more accessible for all.

Apple Vision Pro HEadset with battery attachment

Let’s quickly run through what Apple has announced with the Vision Pro headset: it’s a device that sits on your head, with two high-resolution screens in the main headset and speakers on the sides of the comfortable-looking headband.

It’s powered by two high-performance engines, (the M2 chip used in Macs, and a new R1 chip for on-device processing) and will allow you to either be immersed in a virtual world – so you can’t see the space around you – or use the front-facing cameras so you can see objects floating in front of wherever you’re sitting or standing.

This demonstration on Tim Cook’s Twitter account does a great job of showing what’s possible:

Apple has developed special software so you’ll able to feel like you’re placing large screens all around you – essentially sitting in an iPhone or Mac – and you won’t need controllers as all the interaction will be performed using your hands, eyes and voice.

For instance, you’ll simply be able to look at a search bar and start speaking the term you’d like to browse for, as the Vision Pro has internal cameras that monitor your eye movements constantly and can work out where your gaze is directed.

But before you get excited that you’ll be living in a virtual world next year when the Vision Pro launches in early 2024, there are more than a few reasons why it would be clever to temper that excitement… for now.

Even if you could afford it, you can’t buy one for a while

Apple Vision Pro on man working at desk
Apple’s Vision Pro will allow you to have multiple high-res screens in virtual reality all around you

Let’s get the heavy cost out of the way first: the Vision Pro price has been set at a dizzying $3,499 (around £2,800) when it launches next year. Even if you were willing to pay that premium, you won’t be able to get one without a well-timed trip to the US, as it’s not going to be available in the UK at launch, with Apple simply stating ‘more countries coming later next year’.

While a quick look at the spec sheet suggests the Vision Pro should cost a lot – there are advanced bits of tech inside, with 12 cameras, five sensors and six microphones all working in concert to provide a more immersive experience – I think there’s a chance that Apple is setting that price a little higher to only attract the truly excited about this product.

Google did a similar thing years ago with its own Google Glass headset – by not giving the Vision Pro a mass-market price, it’s stopping more casual users from trying it on and deciding that the early build isn’t worth bothering with and giving it space to breathe and be developed before more people try it out.

Which leads me on to…

The first Vision Pro will probably underwhelm

Apple Vision Pro headset headband up close
The headband on the Apple Vision Pro has been designed for greater comfort – can it achieve that?

There’s been so much excitement and intrigue about if – or more accurately, when – Apple will launch a virtual reality headset that people are probably expecting perfection out of the box.

While a lot of the ideas that Apple is touting in its new headset – such as personalised audio, refined design on objects in virtual space to make them feel more realistic or a ‘three-dimensionally designed’ headband for more comfort, the first generation of Apple products usually are usually more ‘test’ devices, designed for the enthusiasts, before becoming more usable in later models.

For instances, the first iPhone had a terrible camera and limited connectivity. The first Apple Watch couldn’t track runs accurately without an iPhone attached. The first iPad felt like an enlarged iPhone. I got mocked mercilessly for wearing the first Apple AirPods.

The first Vision Pro could well have some rough edges in the software, with only a few apps supported at launch. It will likely be heavier than future models, and the battery life of two hours will likely extend.

A woman sitting on stairs wearing Apple Vision Pro
Users will be able to project an image of their eyes onto the front of the Vision Pro

Apple’s unique VR feature, EyeSight, projects an image of the user’s eyes onto the outside of the headset when someone comes into their field of vision, so they can see what the wearer is looking at.

It’s a nice idea, but in practice it makes the wearer’s eyes look slightly strange and you’ll probably want to just take it off to speak to others rather than wearing an odd-looking mask of your own face when walking around the house.

But that’s as much a limitation of VR technology as it is Apple not bringing out a perfect device from the outset – there are so many impressive-looking design flourishes and features in the Vision Pro that I’m sure many people will be desperate to try one even if they don’t go out and buy their own.

There are questions for those that need to wear glasses for the Vision Pro

Apple Vision Pro face on
How heavy will the new headset be? Will it push down onto the nose with no additional headband?

Apple has made its name around embedding good accessibility features into its devices – for instance, allowing iPhones to be used to help those hard of hearing in loud environments.

While it has claimed the Vision Pro offers ‘incredible performance, mobility and wearability’, it has only touched on issues that might affect those later in life.

Those with ‘vision correction needs’ (as Apple calls them) will be able to buy additional inserts to allow them to see things clearly and have accurate eye tracking when looking around the screen.

These inserts will cost extra, but Apple didn’t comment on my request for more information on how much these will be and how easily they’ll be available.

The interaction methods with the Vision Pro headset look great – you won’t need controllers and you’ll be able to use your gaze, tap your fingers or rotate your wrists to move around the display – which is excellent for those that might struggle to hold or use a separate device to navigate around.

But it’s not clear what users who struggle with fine motor skills will need to do to use the headset – will you be able to manage all commands with eye movement and voice alone? How easy will the Vision Pro be to put on and how heavy will it be to wear?

If you’re excited about VR, then stay excited

Vision Pro interface floating in mid air
Being able to watch movies in VR sounds amazing – but I’ve never found a comfortable experience yet

I won’t lie – I’ve written numerous articles in the past about how great virtual reality could be, and this move from Apple is one that I’ve been waiting for with almost bated breath.

While I don’t think the first experience of the Vision Pro will be amazing, I do think that this device could be the tipping point for virtual reality, where developers start to get on board and create some magical experiences that are truly immersive.

Being able to use this headset to see images of children or grandchildren sent to an iPhone in life-size pictures, or step into panorama photos your family send, will be amazing – users will feel more connected to those moments than ever before.

Imagine a world where you could use paint-visualiser apps on your face and see your home in a whole different colour before you paint it.

Using FaceTime video calling, grandparents will be able to attend birthday parties from the other side of the world, with more immersion than ever before. (I can see a world where Apple, or a third party, brings out a 3D camera to allow users to truly feel part of the event).

None of this is new, of course – Samsung, Meta (the parent company of Facebook) and others have been offering things like this for years.

But the premium materials that have gone into the Vision Pro, the design in both the fit and the software and the widespread appeal of Apple products means that those that have never thought of using a virtual reality headset might suddenly see the appeal.

That means people who can’t travel as easily or struggle to connect to others might be able to transport themselves to other worlds or bridge gaps there were previously insurmountable – assuming they can afford the very expensive price, of course.

I know plenty of people that are already using VR headsets to enjoy far-flung destinations, museums and even rollercoasters from the safety of their sofa and Apple was keen to push this idea at launch, so I imagine this will be a big focus for the firm in the future.

Of course, this is all conjecture right now – I’ve not actually been able to try on one of these headsets (although some have now tried it on, and the results are pretty conclusive that this is an exciting move from Apple – I urge you to read this hands on experience if you’re interested in how the headset feels to use) but still, it’s hard to say whether it’ll be too heavy, or get too hot, or just feel a bit, well, useless when tried over time.

But I’m taking this moment to savour the fact that virtual reality, with all the amazing uses that could come to light, might have just taken a large step closer to the mainstream… and that’s one of the most exciting things to happen in the tech world for years.

Gareth Beavis

Written by Gareth Beavis he/him

Updated:

Gareth was previously Global Editor in Chief of TechRadar, one of the world’s largest and most prominent technology websites, and has appeared as a technology and fitness expert on the TV and radio for the BBC, ITV, Al Jazeera, Sky and many other outlets, as well as chairing panels on the world’s new and exciting tech. A veteran journalist with a career spanning three decades, Gareth has reviewed every iPhone (bar the very first) and Apple Watch launched, as well as reviewing hundreds of other smartphones and fitness gadgets.

  • twitter
  • linkedin
  • Email