This article was originally published on June 6, 2023. It has been republished in light of recent news surrounding the Apple Vision Pro.
I’ll be honest: I was skeptical about this headset at first. I’ve tried plenty of other virtual reality and augmented reality devices. I imagined Apple doing something better than its rivals, but I wasn’t sure what it was for, or why I would ever use it.
In Apple’s announcement, CEO Tim Cook said the device would introduce us to spatial computing, and I kind of understood. But it only makes sense if you try it. The experience of using it changed my opinion and suppressed my doubts.
So this is the moment. I’m sitting in a luxurious building in Apple Park, the company’s headquarters in California. I’m the very first person in the world, outside of Apple staff, to wear the Apple Vision Pro, the new mixed-reality headset announced just minutes ago at the company’s World Wide Developers Conference.
The headset is beautiful, a collection of futuristic metal and glass shapes that fit your head with lightweight, supple straps. Once placed on your head, tighten the back strap via a dial until it fits snugly. Then, another strap is adjusted over the top of your bone with a Velcro closure.
Once there it feels very comfortable and – because the battery is attached with a cable rather than on your head – is easily light enough to wear for long periods of time. Fortunately, the cable is unobtrusive and long enough to sit next to you on the couch when you’re sitting, or in a pocket when you’re standing, for example.
You can’t share the headset because before you use it, you register your eyes via Optic ID, a simple process where you turn your head in front of the phone, similar to setting up an iPhone for Face ID. The installation also takes a video of your ears to create personalized spatial audio.
When you put it on, you might think for a moment that you are looking through a clear visor. But no. You see video through which the built-in cameras see. There are two buttons on the headset. One is for taking photos or recording video (more on that later), and the other is a Digital Crown, like on the Apple Watch. Press this and the word Hello will float in the air in front of you, taking you to an eye-tracking tutorial.
From then on, you control the headset experience entirely with your eyes and a pinch gesture with your hand to select a menu item. You also perform a movement, such as closing an invisible zipper, to scroll through a menu or web page that floats in front of you, for example. Because you don’t have to operate a controller, it feels completely natural. You don’t even have to take your hand off your lap when you perform the pinch motion, because downward-facing cameras can still see it. Within minutes, operating the headset becomes second nature. And the precision of the interface, how exactly it understands your eye movements and what you want it to do, is very impressive.
Because there is a display over each eye, this is a device that can display 3D effects. You can watch the second Avatar movie in 3D and, if you want to make it even more engaging, with a quick wave of your hand you can enlarge the screen and hide the room around you. Oh, and the spatial audio and smooth, flicker-free screen certainly help how immersive it feels to watch a movie on this headset.
Immersive experiences are the key to this device: you can swap your natural environment for one that is all around you, even behind and below you. And apps have already been developed to take this to the next level, such as Encounter Dinosaurs, which Apple describes as an interactive spatial experience, but which is actually a way to lure you into a world of enormous dinosaurs that suddenly look unhealthy. become interested in. you (I didn’t get eaten, but at some point it felt a bit touch and go).
For something less exciting, there are mindfulness apps and the one-minute meditation combines a soothing voice with a soothing animated image.
Apple designed it with the limitations of the real world in mind. Even if you’re engrossed in a movie, if someone walks into the room, the headset knows the special effects and switches back to show you they’re there. And at the same time, a representation of your eyes suddenly appears on the headset’s smooth external screen. This is actually a version of your face that the software created during installation, and it looks mostly convincing. Apple calls this a Persona and this is what appears on the screen when you make a FaceTime call. Naturally, the headset hides your actual face, but this is a refined likeness, even if it sometimes looks a little unreal.
When you tap the top left button, the photos you take or videos you record will be displayed in 3D, creating an amazingly intimate experience. Similarly, a new video format called Apple Immersive Video, with a 180-degree camera view, can create amazingly effective wraparound videos.
The small video screens you watch on Apple Vision Pro are so detailed, so rich, and with such small pixels it doesn’t feel like video at all. Text is razor sharp, allowing for productivity apps. It is a stable and realistic image at all times.
In a quiet room, the Vision Pro’s built-in earphones work fine. You’d probably switch to AirPods if you’re listening to audio on the plane and decide to watch a movie on the headset. I don’t think the audio is as immersive as that of a pair of AirPods, mainly because Apple wants you to stay connected to the outside world, but the quality is generally good.
After half an hour with the Apple Vision Pro on, there was none of the confusion or discomfort that some headsets cause. That’s partly down to how advanced this device is, and that’s reflected in its eye-watering price: $3,499 (about £2,800, although no possible UK price or release has been announced).
Is it expensive? Certainly. Is it a good price? Probably.
This is the first headset I’ve tried that is extremely effective and consistently attractive. Actually it was breathtaking.