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Apple Vision: Will the New Apple Headset Be the iPhone of Virtual Reality?

Apple Vision Will the New Apple Headset Be the iPhone of Virtual Reality

Photograph courtesy of Apple; Collage: Gabe Conte
Apple became the world’s most valuable company by taking cutting-edge technology and turning it into something cool, normal people might actually want to use. Is there any world in which the new Apple Vision headset does the same with VR?

Apple officially revealed its new high-end AR/VR headset, the Apple Vision Pro, on Monday, June 5 at the Worldwide Developers Conference in Cupertino, California. Apple is calling the Vision Pro its “most ambitious product ever,” and they would—but you can honestly see what they mean. The Vision Pro will feature twin micro-OLED displays, a brand-new chip, will cost $3,499, and won’t be available until early 2024.

This isn’t merely a virtual reality headset; it’s a wearable computer that lets you trade desktop screens for an effectively limitless display while you work or go about your day. The Vision Pro will also let you watch TV shows and movies in 3D on a screen that’s as big as your eyesight. The Vision Pro functions as a true augmented reality device, and users will still be able to see and interact with the world around them while projecting apps, video and images, and 3D animations onto the surrounding environment.

The start of the WWDC23 event was packed with new products and feature announcements, but most of this news covered incremental improvements to existing products. The virtual reality device is the first major new hardware product from Apple in over a decade. It was the star of the show.

So far, virtual reality has failed to break into the mainstream, and Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse is a ghost town. But where Apple goes, the culture usually follows. Now, Apple is betting that a $3,500 set of virtual reality goggles are the technology of the future, and the company seems to think it can do for virtual reality what it’s done for personal computers, mp3 players, smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, and wireless earbuds. 

Now that Apple VR has been unveiled at WWDC23, we wanted to break down everything we’ve learned about the futuristic Apple VR headset. 

What Is the Apple Vision Pro?

The Vision Pro is a new AR/VR headset and display that doubles as a personal “spatial computer.” The Vision Pro will provide an immersive experience that lets the user augment their surrounding environment or disappear into a virtual 3D world.

Visually, the headset looks more like ski goggles than other VR devices. Apple promises that wearers will be able to see and interact with the world around them. For instance, if someone comes into your space while wearing the Vision Pro, they’ll automatically appear in your display, and at the same time, a front-facing display will depict a real-time view of your eyes and face. Using voice, hand movements, and head movements, users can control their display and apps. That means there’s no clunky hand controllers like with other VR headsets.

Apple’s new VR device features a familiar goggle-shaped headset with twin postage-stamp sized screens that contain 23 million pixels. Each of these tiny OLED screens will deliver the equivalent of a 4K TV display to each eye, and using a new lens system, these screens will take up your entire visual field.

The front of the headset contains an outer display that’s made from a single piece of polished glass. The body is made from an aluminum alloy, which will make the headset durable but also lightweight. The strap that keeps the headset in place also contains speakers, and the back of the headset can be tightened with an adjustment dial, ensuring a secure fit. Apple says that the Vision Pro will feature all-day battery life, while an additional 2-day battery pack can be stored in your pocket.

The bad news: The release date and price

Apple’s VR headset was rumored to be expensive, and it definitely is. The Apple Vision Pro starts at $3,499, which will be out of reach for the average consumer. This first iteration is definitely a luxury product. We can only hope that future models are more affordable.

As for the release date, Apple has only said that the Vision Pro will be released in “early 2024.”

How is the Vision Pro display meant to be used?

Apple is hoping that Vision Pro will finally bring virtual and augmented reality to the mainstream. 

Current VR headsets like the Meta Quest 2 and the Sony Playstation VR2 headset are primarily used for gaming, although Meta invested heavily in a social metaverse called Horizon Worlds, which has largely failed to draw users. As a result, VR and AR has remained a niche gaming experience, but Apple is trying to change that.

During the WWDC23 keynote event revealing Vision Pro, Apple barely mentioned gaming at all. Instead, Vision Pro was pitched as an augmented reality tool for productivity, communication, and work. Existing Apple products like FaceTime will work with Vision Pro, and the headset can also be used to view your photos, videos, and panoramas as if they were life-size.

The Vision Pro will augment the environment around you, projecting digital content, apps, and video calls onto the world, which you’ll still be able to see in real time. Users can control this experience using head and hand movements, as if you’re a conductor for reality itself. With the turn of your head or snap of your fingers, you can bring up FaceTime or DisneyPlus. By glancing down at a MacBook, your laptop’s screen will automatically appear in your Vision Pro display.

Because there’s no equivalent of a webcam inside the Vision Pro, the new visionOS will create a life-like digital persona of your body which can be projected into FaceTime and video conferencing calls. In the keynote display, this digital persona looked lifelike, but the uncanny valley could be a major problem if Apple doesn’t get it exactly right.

A New Way To Experience Entertainment

Vision Pro is also Apple’s first 3D camera and display. By touching a button on the display, users can take 3D photos and videos. When combined with spatial audio, Apple promises Vision Pro will deliver an unparalleled immersive experience, one that can’t really be communicated with a 2D screen. That means the true impact of Vision Pro will be hard to appreciate until you’re actually wearing one.

This feature can also be used to watch TV shows and movies in an entirely new way. With the Vision Pro, screen size is a thing of the past. The screen can be made as large as your eyesight. To show off the capabilities of the Vision Pro, Apple brought out Disney CEO Bob Iger, who teased how Vision Pro will bring you into entertainment and sports. Iger also mentioned that Disney Plus will be available on the Vision Pro at launch.

Gaming will be possible with Vision Pro, and Apple said that hundreds of gaming titles will be playable on the Vision Pro on day one. However, the focus definitely isn’t on gaming.

The New Tech

To allow the user to see and interact with the world in real time, the Vision Pro contains 12 cameras, five onboard sensors, and six microphones. LiDAR mapping helps the Vision Pro capture 3D images and videos while recreating your environment, and downward facing cameras capture your hand movements, which can be used to control the device.

Processing all of that input represents a monumental challenge, and to accomplish this feat, Apple built the new R1 chip and a new operating system for the Vision Pro. Working in concert with the M2 chip, the R1 was designed to process input from all those cameras and sensors in near real-time. Apple says that because the R1 can process and display this input in “faster than the blink of an eye,” motion sickness won’t be a concern like with other VR headsets.

Can Apple Do for Virtual Reality What the iPhone Did for Smartphones?

Apple wasn’t the first manufacturer to introduce a smartphone. Yet when Steve Jobs stepped onto the stage at the Macworld Expo on January 9, 2007 to announce the launch of the iPhone, the smartphone era truly began.

This wasn’t the first or last time Apple has managed this trick: There were MP3 players before the iPod. The Apple Watch wasn’t the first smartwatch. The AirPods weren’t the first bluetooth headphones. But by combining trend-setting design and incredibly user-friendly interfaces, Apple has put this technology in every pocket.

Now, Apple is poised to do the same for virtual reality, and with the Vision Pro, Apple is planting a flag in this new world. For decades, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and would-be futurists have been predicting that wearables, augmented reality, and virtual reality headsets were on the verge of revolutionizing modern life. Yet for all the big promises, wearables like Google Glass, the metaverse, and virtual reality have achieved only niche status. 

This won’t happen any time soon: the Apple headsets are very unlikely to become mainstream for one simple reason—the cost. Still, if Apple continues to iterate on its new VR headset, it could one day prove to be as popular and ubiquitous as the iPhone is today. Apple seems to believe the Vision Pro has the potential to be as game-changing as the iPhone, and Tim Cook’s keynote seemed orchestrated to call to mind Steve Job’s iconic keynotes of the past. It made sense: for the first time in years, Apple might finally have another truly world-changing product. 

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