Apple’s new Vision Pro virtual reality headset is shown during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, on June 5, 2023.

Josh Adelson | AFP | Getty Images

Almost a decade has passed since then apple It unveiled its latest flagship product, the Apple Watch.

Now, the company has a completely different kind of wearable device, a mixed reality headset called the Vision Pro, which the company unveiled at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.

I have to take one for a test drive.

Apple gave some WWDC attendees a controlled demo of Vision Pro, showing us how to manipulate apps and other content in 3D space and training the internal cameras to track our eyes. Many features weren’t available to try, such as Siri voice controls and a camera that lets you take 3D photos and videos. The Vision Pro won’t go on sale until early 2024, Apple says, so it likely has some other kinks to work out before the company lets the public get the full experience.

Still, the demo gave me a taste of Apple’s niche in the burgeoning headphone space.

But first we had to deal with my glasses. The Vision Pro is not large enough to fit over glasses if you wear them. The solution: an add-on prescription lens system. An Apple representative took my glasses and put them on a machine that could read my prescription. By the time I got to the viewing room, a custom set of lenses was waiting for me inside the Vision Pro. (You don’t have to worry about this if you wear contact lenses.)

Then it’s time to jump.

The headset was comfortable, with comfortable fabric lining around the face and a headband that kept it attached to my head. But, like every other headset I’ve tested, it started to feel heavy and uncomfortable by the end of the 30-minute demo.

Apple’s new Vision Pro virtual reality headset is shown during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, on June 5, 2023.

Josh Adelson | AFP | Getty Images

When I first turned the device on, the external cameras were feeding the world outside the sharp screens inside. It was completely obvious – almost shocking. while metaThe most advanced headset, Quest Pro, feeds you blurry, pixelated images of the outside world, Apple Vision feels like you’re looking through glass, not at a screen.

Then it’s time to dive into what Apple Vision can do. Pressing the dial in the upper right of the device, which Apple calls the Digital Crown like the one on the Apple Watch, brings up a list of app icons. It’s kind of like hitting the home button on an old iPhone. All the standard Apple apps you’d expect to see were there: Photos, iMessages, Apple TV, Safari, etc., floating in front of me.

Apple Vision Pro.

Source: Apple

To select an app (or whatever else you want to “click”), you look at what you want and then make a pinch gesture with your thumb and forefinger to select it. The cameras inside Apple Vision track your eyes and recognize what you’re looking at. External cameras track your hand movements. The Meta headset has a similar feature, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as it does the Apple Vision, if it works at all. (Meta ships its headset with a wireless controller for better control.)

Opening the app in turn causes a window to float in front of you, and you can surround yourself with apps if you like, almost like working on multiple monitors on a desktop computer. The apps look just as crisp as the apps on your iPhone or MacBook. This is important — until now, I’ve never used a headset with crisp images.

I went through several demos like browsing the photo library in Photos, including panoramic photos that made me feel like I was inside the scene. Apple TV is another major app — you can place a virtual movie screen anywhere in the room. I watched a 3D trailer for the latest “Avatar” movie, and it was almost as clear as watching on a 4K TV at home.

Apple Vision Pro

Source: Apple

You can also turn the Digital Crown clockwise to bring the headset into full virtual reality and put yourself in an immersive environment, like a starry night in the wilderness. I especially loved it for watching a movie – it felt like I was sitting in my very own custom IMAX theater.

But virtual reality doesn’t completely take you out of the real world. If someone is in the room with you and you look at them for a few seconds, the headset slowly fades out into your immersive surroundings.

The other offering worth noting: FaceTime.

An Apple employee wearing her Vision Pro called me into a separate room and showed up at a hovering window in front of me. But it wasn’t her real face — it was a realistic-looking avatar that Apple calls a “personality.” Apple’s demo didn’t let me scan my face with Vision Pro to make up my avatar, but the one belonging to the woman I was talking to looked so much like her that it fooled me into thinking it was a normal video chat at first. It’s a far cry from the cartoon “Metaverse avatar” of Mark Zuckerberg that went viral last year.

Although most of the focus on the Apple Vision is on the visuals, I was equally impressed with the sound. The Vision Pro has a pair of speakers that sit close to your temples and provide a surround sound effect. If you’ve ever used spatial audio with AirPods, you’ll know what I mean. But the effect is more noticeable in AR and VR, and it gave me a better sense of presence and immersion than the visuals alone. And although the sound wasn’t pumping directly into my ears, the other people in the room couldn’t hear it. (You can still pair your AirPods with the Vision Pro, of course.)

Finally, there is the price. The crowd at WWDC Monday — which was filled with some of Apple’s biggest fans — Groan audibly When the $3,500 price tag popped up on the screen. But as someone who’s tried every mainstream headphone out there so far, I can tell you the Vision Pro feels like a $3,500 machine. It’s much more advanced than its closest competitor, Meta’s Quest Pro.

This is the state of this technology today: mediocre to poor experience for several hundred dollars, or excellent, visually pleasing experience for thousands.

That alone should tell you that the Vision Pro and other devices like it still have a long way to go beyond a niche product.

Apple unveils the Vision Pro headset, describing it as a new product for augmented reality


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