You do not need to buy Apple Vision Pro. At $3499 plus taxes before you purchase accessories and add on the aggressive $499 warranty, it is the most expensive headset on the market. Plenty of less expensive options exist: Meta’s Quest 3 and Quest Pro, Playstation VR, HTC Vive. Despite Apple’s aggressive marketing campaign this is a first generation device for enthusiasts, not a mass market hit.
That said, Apple Vision Pro is different, not merely a small improvement on the existing technology. It passes through video of your surroundings so you do not feel trapped in virtual space. It uses AI and cameras to mimic your eye movements on an external screen. It tracks your eyes to serve as a cursor. Where other headsets are an escape from the real world, this headset remains a part of it.
Apple Vision Pro might also be the best headset. Sitting down in the Apple Store on Boylston Street I put it on and the first thing that strikes me is it is more three dimensional than any 3D thing I have tried. In it 3D movies looked better than their theater equivalents. Virtual objects did not seem as pixelated as other headsets. Screens stay dutifully anchored to the spots they are placed in the room. There are not adequate words to describe how much better the quality is than other headsets, you need to book a demo to experience it.
The three dimensional nature of the headset is underscored through demos like Encounter Dinosaurs. Here Apple Vision Pro uses its hand tracking to let you pet a virtual dinosaur. For a moment I felt as if I might be touching it. The accuracy was uncanny. Looking at 3D photos or movies is breathtaking. I feel like I am looking through a window in the moment that is recorded by the camera. The last time I saw technology like this and thought it had the gee whiz factor was when Nintendo’s Switch successfully changed from TV to handheld mode without crashing a game. There is something here, and it is clear why Apple chose to release this now.
Three dimensional videos and photos are amazingly good, but also limited. Shots taken on iPhone or Vision Pro lack the depth and quality of the professional shots used in movie content or virtual environments. It does not take away from this capability. A three dimensional photo is still magic compared to its two dimensional counterpart. It leaves you craving for something better.
Apple Vision Pro’s passthrough video is better than anything I have experienced before, but it is not the miracle heralded by other reviews. The best description of the technical limitations is featured in The Verge’s review. Colors are less vibrant, lighting is dimmed or sometimes blown out, and text can be fuzzy. I am able to read my keyboard keys or light text on a dark background, but looking at my computer monitor before I connect it to Vision Pro is a challenge. Moving my head creates motion blur. This all works best in moderately lit environments. Dark environments have lots of noise while a sunny room increases blurring and blowouts. It’s great in an indoor office, store, or home at night. Otherwise it is merely good enough to be functional.
The killer feature for me is looking at your laptop or going to control center allows you to turn Apple Vision Pro into a monitor for your Mac. Sitting at my kitchen table I have a 4K display that looks bigger than my 27” monitor in my office. I can type with my keyboard and mouse with little to no lag. This worked less great with my Intel MacBook Pro, the resolution was worse and the mouse lag was unusable. But on an M1 machine this is nearly perfect. I can place Vision Pro apps around this virtual monitor and seamlessly use my keyboard and trackpad from my laptop to control input to those. Apple hit a home run with this use case.
Last night I FaceTime’d my best man. A glitch left only audio coming from his side, but from my side he could see my jarring persona. Apple’s AI version of me looks airbrushed, more muscular, and more bald than I do in real life. It is functional, but beta and jarring for folks on the other side that are not ready for it. I was able to share the view I had from Apple Vision Pro to him through FaceTime and it was fun to make him a part of that experience. I was able to drop a full-size Formula 1 car in my living room, walk around and see the details of the car, and then kneel and sort of sit in the cockpit as if I was there. Although he only saw the 2D facsimile, it was enough to convey the idea and find it neat.
Apple Vision Pro has a limited selection of 3D games. This market is already well occupied by Sony and Meta. Playing Super Fruit Ninja was incredibly fun. The game reacted to my hand movements without issue. It felt like I was inside the game instead of watching it on a screen. I hope that games from other platforms will be ported or otherwise become available to complement what is here, otherwise Apple Vision Pro will lag as a gaming headset.
Apple Vision Pro begs to be pushed to the limit, but you quickly find those limits. Passthrough lets you do lots of things with the headset on but trying to drink anything larger than a can is a challenge. Cups collide with it. Folding laundry leads to accidental hand gesture clicking. This device wants to be used in the world but is meant to be used sitting at a couch or table.
The fit of Apple Vision Pro makes a huge difference. A wrongly sized light shield can ruin your experience. Improperly positioning it on your face leads to discomfort and blurriness. While Apple’s face scanning technology works well for most, it’s not perfect. Feedback from friends has affirmed the importance and value of doing an in store fit check and demo.
As a resident of the Apple ecosystem Apple Vision Pro feels like the first headset ready for me to do something more than play discrete games in. 1Password loads and pulls my passwords in. Emails, notes, reminders, all load in from iCloud. The purchases list in the App Store stands ready to bring in things I’ve bought for iPhone or iPad. My text messages and contacts sync. This device feels like it’s ready for me to get stuff done, not just play games.
On Friday afternoon I donned the headset and glimpsed the future. Apple Vision Pro leverages years of engineering effort to uncannily fill my world with as many screens as I want and interact with 3D objects using my hands. A screen that is superior to the movie theater projects 3D movies while spatial audio makes me feel like I am there. The passthrough video keeps me connected to the world and people around me, even if I do not look to be a part of it. After an hour I grow thirsty and simply removing the headset is all that is needed to turn it off, a very Apple touch. Nobody needs Apple Vision Pro but once you taste the future, you continue to crave it. Do not buy one unless you’re ready to leave the Apple Store with a heavier head and lighter wallet.