Apple’s long-awaited Vision Pro augmented and virtual reality headset is set for release on February 2nd with an eye-watering $3,499 price tag. Initial hands-on reviews indicate groundbreaking experiences in immersive 3D environments and entertainment, but some discomfort and usability issues have surfaced.
Over 5 years in the making
After over 5 years in development, Apple’s first major new product category since the Apple Watch finally got its grand unveiling this week. Invited members of the press got extensive demos of the headset and a glimpse into the future of computing Apple envisions.
The Vision Pro runs on Apple’s new M2 chip with 10 CPU and 8 GPU cores for snappy performance powering two 4K OLED displays and an array of cameras and sensors. It offers both virtual reality, completely blocking out the real world, and augmented reality where virtual elements are overlaid onto your surroundings.
|February 2, 2024
|Apple M2 with 10 CPU cores, 8 GPU cores
|Dual 4K OLED, VR and AR modes
|64GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB configs
reviewers got to experience a 25-minute guided demo showcasing the headset’s capabilities spanning gaming, communication, content consumption and creativity. The demos aimed to sell the Vision Pro’s versatility as the ultimate entertainment device according to Apple.
Groundbreaking 3D, immersion…and some pain
All reviewers came away extremely impressed by the sense of immersion offered by the device, comparing it favorably even to existing VR platforms. The combination of display quality, realistic 3D spatial audio, intuitive hand tracking controls and powerful graphics allows the creation of strikingly convincing virtual environments.
Over 150 movies will be available on the Vision Pro at launch remastered in interactive 3D from major studios like Disney, Warner Bros and Sony. Standouts included scenes from Avatar where viewers could examine the alien wildlife up close, and a sequence from Star Wars placing you directly onto the Millennium Falcon’s gun turrets battling TIE fighters.
Exclusive new short films and series take further advantage of the format with Disney offering the chance to hang out with Iron Man in Tony Stark’s lab, Pixar transporting you into the Toy Story world, and a National Geographic spacewalk experience filmed by real astronauts on the ISS.
Music also shines in immersive 3D with Alicia Keys performing a private concert for the viewer, and Apple Music gaining special environments to enjoy your playlists in. Even everyday 2D video watching got an upgrade with the ability to simulate a giant 300 inch screen.
Ergonomic challenges emerge
However the advanced technology comes at a cost – primarily comfort. At 1.4 pounds the Vision Pro is almost double the weight of existing VR headsets. Reviewers found the front-heavy design awkward, pressing painfully on the face after 30 minutes or less despite an array of adjustable straps and pads.
Several testers complained of eye strain trying to focus on text and UI elements, headaches from the weight, and general fatigue from long sessions. While the 15 minutes spent passively viewing 3D video content fared better, extended gameplay, communication and productivity tasks highlighted ergonomic challenges.
The device’s bulk also impacts portability and ease of use. Putting on the Vision Pro involves a complicated process more akin to securing a bike helmet than slipping on a pair of glasses. Fingerprint smudges on the exterior lenses are also a frequent issue interrupting use.
Innovative tech hampered by real-world friction
Ambitious features like full hand tracking remove the need for dedicated controllers resulting in interaction concepts not seen in existing platforms. This allows intuitive gestures for tasks like opening a virtual desktop to access apps and moving windows around in 3D space.
However tracking accuracy varies greatly depending on lighting conditions. Apple also chose to avoid including cameras viewing the real environment for safety and privacy reasons. This means users cannot see their surroundings while in VR, forcing reliance on inaccurate guardian boundaries that often triggered too early or late in testing resulting in collisions with walls.
Perhaps the Vision Pro’s most futuristic input proposition is the ability to type on a full-sized virtual keyboard with haptic feedback on your fingers. Unfortunately early verdicts indicate a steep learning curve mastering placement without sight, along with no multi-touch for shortcuts most are used to on mobile devices.
For all the promising technology on offer, compromised real world functionality proves an obstacle Apple still needs to solve. Even navigating the multi-layered onboarding process is described as complex without access to tutorials on a separate screen.
An iOS ecosystem tailored for VR
The Vision Pro runs a new VR-centric flavor of iOS, benefiting from Apple’s app development ecosystem and hardware-software integration. A range of first and third party apps tailored for the device will be available at launch, with all existing iPhone games and software usable too through various backwards compatibility techniques.
The interface mixes 2D floating panels and 3D objects in virtual spaces, controlled via hand tracking, voice, on-device controls and an iPhone app. Multitasking is facilitated by easily switching between multiple windows arrayed around you rather than confined to a flat screen.
Apple is including dedicated VR apps for many of its services like FaceTime virtual meetups supporting shared AR experiences with outside participants on iPhones or Macs. Apple TV gets refitted for personal theaters. Apple Music adds 3D visualizations and immersive concerts. Safari on Vision Pro promises an engrossing method to experience the wider web.
Third parties are onboard too. A Disney MAX streaming app grants access to the entire Disney catalog past and present, plus a selection of films remastered in 3D. Multiverse chat platform Spatial and creativity tools like Mediaarts and Procreate also feature. Even competitors like TikTok plan launch apps, realizing Apple will have instantly created the largest VR audience overnight.
Apple envisions the next computing revolution
Despite some clear areas in need of refinement in terms of wearability and input methods, Apple is confident in proclaiming the Vision Pro as the herald of the next major shift for personal technology. Even with a select amount of launch content highlighting its strengths, the possibilities span virtually every category once the developer community taps into the headset’s capabilities.
Upcoming software updates will tackle some current weak points like the inability to view your surroundings in VR. Rumors suggest additional accessories are in development too such as ergonomic strap solutions and controller wands. Support for shareable and multiplayer experiences is also planned allowing VR hangouts and collaborations.
Although consumer interest at launch may be primarily enthusiasts and early adopters, Apple hopes to court the mainstream over time. They note today’s issues like cost, discomfort and complicated setup are similar to early objections around the original iPhone. Now smartphones are ubiquitous devices accessed by people of all ages and demographics.
If Apple’s impressive track record of redefining consumer technology categories holds true again, within a few years VR may become a daily part of our lives rather than a niche curiosity. The Vision Pro offers a promising glimpse, if still slightly blurry, at how our computing habits will evolve.
What comes next?
With online preorders opening Friday and retail demos rolling out worldwide, the Vision Pro’s launch is just the first step on a long roadmap. Supply constraints are expected initially with uncertain shipment dates past the first batch for buyers not ordering in the first few hours.
Manufacturing partner Foxconn aims to produce up to 2.5 million Vision Pro units by summer 2024. Apple also signed up component alternative suppliers like LG to help avoid disruptions. They hope to expand internationally over the year depending on region-specific app and service readiness.
Rumors indicate refreshed Vision Pro models in 2025 will shrink size and weight by around 20% thanks to chip advancements, benefitting ergonomics. Updated versions on a roughly 18 month cycle are expected going forward as the technology matures.
Developers are gearing up to tap into augmented reality capabilities more strongly once Apple ships a planned dedicated AR headset in 2026 leveraging lessons from the Vision Pro. Over time the product lines may merge as form factors shrink towards ordinary glasses.
For now the Vision Pro kickstarts a new frontier for Apple and the next generation of personal computing. Early limitations haven’t dampened enthusiasm that Apple can mold virtual reality into a mainstream phenomenon over forthcoming versions. But they do demonstrate challenges translating advanced technology into global consumer acceptance.
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