I’m struggling with how to feel about Apple’s new mixed-reality headset — or “spatial computer,” as Apple calls it. On the one hand, all the technology powering the Vision Pro is very impressive, from the micro-OLED displays to the R1 chip that processes all the cameras, sensors, and mics on the headset. This blows away any other head-mounted display on the market.
On the other hand, Apple seems convinced that its higher-resolution screens and more powerful chips will be enough to convince people to strap on a bulky headset to complete tasks that they already have solutions for at home. More importantly, many of those solutions are significantly more affordable than the $3,500 Vision Pro.
As futuristic as the Vision Pro might appear at first glance, Apple’s vision of the future looks a lot like the future that every VR headset maker has been peddling for years.
Who and what is the Vision Pro for?
As banal as that question might be, I can’t help but ask it. If you can afford to spend $3,500 on a first-generation mixed-reality headset, I’m willing to bet that you already have a pretty killer home theater setup. After all, some of the best TVs on the market, even of the 75-inch variety, cost well under $3,000. Tack on a high-end surround sound system for around $1,000, and you now have an enviable home theater setup for about the same price as a Vision Pro. Best of all, a room full of people can enjoy your TV and speakers rather than one person in a headset.
I am making this comparison because, based on Apple’s WWDC keynote, watching shows and movies is one of the key use cases of the Vision Pro. During the keynote, we saw several people watching movies in 3D, watching TV shows on Disney Plus, and watching sports with all kinds of augmented reality additions floating around.
I have no doubt that the quality of this experience is significantly better than that of the far cheaper Meta Quest. But how flawless would the experience need to be for you to don a wired headset every time you sat down to veg out at the end of the day?
For most of the presentation, Apple focused on entertainment and productivity. As skeptical as I am about the average consumer wearing a “spatial computer” to simply watch TV, I’m even less convinced that an HMD can be a valuable tool for work. Setting aside the fact that the Vision Pro only lasts for two hours unless it’s plugged directly into a power source, I am a human being, and therefore I have to leave my desk fairly frequently for basic human needs. I don’t want to have to remove a headset every time I need to refill my water bottle or use the restroom or get the mail. I also don’t want to take it with me on all of those errands.
The amount of friction a Vision Pro would add to my life makes it whatever the opposite of a no-brainer is for me personally. I’d be thrilled to give it a test run, as I have little doubt a Vision Pro is more visually and technologically impressive than any other headset I’ve ever used. But even for a tenth of the price, it doesn’t appeal to me in its current form.
With all of that said, I’m still excited about Apple getting into this space. I love the potential of VR more than the execution so far, and I know that Apple is as capable as any company of bringing augmented and virtual reality to the mainstream.