Apple’s first augmented reality headset is coming early next year. Called Vision Pro, it’s a wearable computer with a large glass front, two high-quality micro OLED displays, 12 cameras, and five sensors that allows you to see apps overlaid on real-world environments.
Among other things, it allows you to make calls, watch videos, or use apps and games. And unlike most other VR headsets, it doesn’t require a set of external controllers: Apple says you can interact with Vision Pro using your hands, voice, and eyes… assuming you can afford it. Prices start at $3,499.
Apple says it’s worth the price because the headset is like a big-screen TV, a laptop, and a high-quality camera all rolled into one. But I seriously doubt we’re at the point where anybody is going to replace any of those gadgets with this thing, which makes Vision Pro a product that only developers and/or die-hard enthusiasts with money to burn can love.
But… if it takes off, it could be the beginning of an entirely new product category for Apple, and we could see more affordable versions in the future.
Here’s what we know about Vision Pro so far.
The software experience is similar to what you’d see on an iPhone or iPad: there’s a home screen with a grid of apps. But instead of viewing it on a 2D surface, it’s overlaid as a 3 dimensional view in front of your eyes.
The user interface responds to your eyes. But you can also use your fingers for gestures. For example, you can tap two fingers together to select, and flick your fingers to scroll. There is a digital crown that you use for some actions, including bringing up the home screen.
Apple says you can also use Bluetooth accessories like Apple keyboards or Macs. And you can use Vision Pro as a sort of external display for other Apple devices like a Mac computer: just look at your Mac and the screen will show up on a large, resizable virtual window in front of your eyes.
Not only does the display allow you to see the world around you, but the headset also allows other people to see your eyes. Apple is introducing a feature it calls EyeSight that uses the exterior glass as a display to show your eyes when other people are detected nearby, allowing for more natural conversations without the need to remove your headset (as long as you don’t look like you’re wearing a face computer while you talk).
When you’re interacting with apps and people cannot see your eyes, the display shows more of a blurry graphic. And if you’re using immersive apps that block out the real world entirely, those color lights take up more space and shine more brightly.
As expected, Vision Pro looks pretty comfortable compared with other headsets… but that’s at least partially because the battery isn’t in the headset itself. Instead there’s a wire that runs to an external battery pack that you can keep in your pocket.
But… that battery? It only offers up to 2 hours of battery life. I have to wonder if Apple is going to sell extra batteries that you can swap out, or higher-capacity batteries for folks that actually want to watch a full movie before their headset runs out of juice.
Also as expected? Part of the appeal is that Vision Pro taps into existing Apple apps and services like Facetime. Not only can you use it for voice and video calls with people who are calling from a phone, tablet, or computer, but spatial audio means that if you position on person’s window to your left and another’s to your right, you’ll hear them as if they’re speaking from those locations.
That audio comes courtesy of speakers built into the sides. They don’t actually cover your ears, which will allow you to hear the world around you – the idea of this headset is mixed reality, not virtual reality, after all.
Vision Pro’s 3D cameras aren’t just used to situate the user interface in real space. You can also use it to capture 3D “spatial video” using the camera and mic system and share them with other users.
While Vision Pro is an augmented reality headset rather than virtual reality, it does allow you to darken the environment for a distraction-free environment while watching movies or TV shows (including 3D movies) or playing games. Or you can use “environments” to watch videos in a virtual theater or other spaces.
Apple says the headset’s displays are made from two micro OLED displays with 23 million pixels across both. The displays are incredibly pixel-dense, with 64 pixels crammed into the space of a single iPhone pixel, allowing Apple to higher-than-4K image quality in a tiny space. It also supports high dynamic range (HDR) color.
The company also partnered with Zeiss to allow users with prescription glasses to get prescription lenses that can be inserted.
Vision Pro’s primary processor is an Apple M2 processor, but there also a new chip called R1 that handles processing of data from the cameras and sensors, including 12 cameras, six microphones, and five other sensors.
And while Vision pro runs versions of many of the same apps you can use on an iPhone or iPad, Apple developed a new operating system called visionOS that it says provides the tools for “spatial computing” with a new way to interact with 2D apps on a 3D interface, and support for new types of 3D and augmented reality applications.
Another new feature debuting with Vision Pro is a new security feature called Optic ID that uses iris scanning for logins, mobile payments, and other features without the need for fingerprint recognition or a scan of your full face.