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It’s night. I’m at a lake near Oregon’s Mount Hood, sitting on the beach. Jazz music is playing as I write. I’m not in the real world.
Well, I sort of am.
I’m wearing Apple’s new Vision Pro headset, which looks like a fancy pair of glowing ski goggles.
Apple’s long-awaited headset, which starts at $3,500, launches in the U.S. on Friday. It’s the company’s first major new gadget to hit the market since the Apple Watch debuted in April 2015. I’ve been testing it for nearly a week. While it has some shortcomings, it’s easily the most fun new product I’ve tried out in years.
Analysts don’t expect the Vision Pro to drive massive amounts of revenue initially. UBS anticipates Apple will ship about 400,000 headsets, leading to a “relatively immaterial” $1.4 billion in revenue this year. However, I’m convinced that if Apple eventually sells cheaper versions, we’ll see millions of people using them in the coming years.
The Vision Pro offers a new kind of experience that Apple calls “spatial computing.” You sit in your world while looking at a digital one, and then plop different apps around you. You can work, play games, watch movies or surf the web.
Thanks to very sharp displays, and a full M2 processor that’s usually found in Macs, the Vision Pro has the power to do a lot of what you’d expect from an Apple device. There’s a dedicated App Store for Vision Pro apps, but you can also install more than a million iPhone or iPad apps. Or pair it with your Mac and work while looking at a 4K display inside the goggles.
I’m only scratching the surface of the capabilities, but here’s the gist: This is an entirely new type of computing, providing a whole new world of experiences. It feels like the future.
Here’s what you need to know:
I was skeptical when I first met with Apple to see the Vision Pro. Companies have been trying to do virtual reality and augmented reality and mixed reality or gobbledygook reality for years.
Sometimes it’s cool, but most of the time I’m done after an hour or so.
With the Vision Pro, there are three key parts that come into play. It has super sharp and colorful screens, it allows you to see the world around you by default
The displays help remove the “screendoor” effect that’s common in lower-cost headsets like the Meta Quest 3. That’s where you can see the pixels as you look through a headset. You can easily read text on a website or a book on the Vision Pro. And I was able to watch movies, including in 3D, on screens bigger and nicer than any TV in my house. “passthrough” technology, and it has a fast processor.
The Quest 3 and other headsets also have passthrough. But Apple’s works better. It’s clearer and sharper, enough so that I can comfortably see the room around me in full color and without any lag, though I still can’t read my phone. And I love how you can turn the small digital crown, just like on the Apple Watch or AirPods Max, to adjust the volume or transport yourself into a fully 3D landscape.
Virtual travel is a nice touch. You can work or watch movies in Hawaii, by a lake, in White Sands or at Joshua Tree. They’re all relaxing environments with calming sounds and slow animations — like clouds moving across the sky — that help you feel like you’re almost there.
Navigation is easy once you get the hang of it. This reminds me a bit of the iPhone moment, when Apple launched its multitouch display that changed how we interact with phones that had largely been navigated with a stylus, touchpad or keyboard. There aren’t any controllers here. The headset uses sensors to track your eyes (and even verify when you’re making purchases online or in the App Store.) Apple has a quick setup process that aligns the headset to your eyes and then has you look at a series of dots, pinching your fingers as you go so you can calibrate. If you wear glasses, Apple also sells inserts that pop into the headset.
It’s incredibly accurate. You just look where you want to go and then tap your thumb and index finger to select a button or app. There’s a white bar at the bottom of every app, for example, that you can grab to pull and push around. You can adjust the size of any app by looking at the corner and then dragging it out or in at a diagonal angle. And you can swipe through photos or scroll websites by holding your index finger and thumb together while pulling up or down.
Likewise, you zoom in and out by holding those fingers on both hands and pulling outward or inward. You don’t have to flail your hands in front of you. The headset’s external cameras can detect your fingers down in your lap. You can be subtle.
It packs a punch.
I launched more than a dozen apps around me. There’s no point in doing more, because you can’t see it all. I loved setting it up with a browser in front of me, music next to me and a TV screen above it all. But the world is yours to customize. You can open mail and a browser or leave Slack open next to a Word document with your calendar on the other side. Put your text messages on the ceiling if you want. It’s a completely new way to multitask.
A note: My screenshots show apps askew. But, in the headset, they’re all perfectly level.
I didn’t run into any slowdowns during my time with the Vision Pro. Part of that is due to how Apple renders content. It’s technically only sharpening the areas of the screen where you’re focusing, leaving the other areas blurry. That’s why some of the screenshots here look out of focus around the sides. Inside the headset, it’s all super crisp. It’s called foveated rendering, and it allows for optimized processing.