After many years of rumors and speculation, today Apple finally unveiled their latest computing platform, an AR/VR headset device they are calling Apple Vision Pro. For about the last decade or so, we have been hearing about how virtual reality is going to be the “next big thing" and “change everything", but while the experiences the various VR devices over the years have been able to provide can be quite remarkable, VR itself isn’t much more than a niche market. The Meta Quest and PlayStation VR are probably the two most successful VR platforms so far, but nothing has really hit that mainstream moment that shows everybody beyond just enthusiasts why they simply cannot live without a VR headset.
Apple is obviously hoping to be the ones to bring VR to the mainstream in a similar fashion that they brought smartphones mainstream with the iPhone or even tablet computing mainstream with the iPad. This is a very difficult device to try to explain, so if you missed today’s WWDC keynote where the Vision Pro was unveiled, this roughly 9-minute video is a succinct overview of everything Apple is hoping to accomplish with this new device.
The Vision Pro seems like it’s poised to offer an unparalleled experience compared to the headsets that are available today, but I still am not sure it solves the question of “Why do I need this in my life?" I mean, sure, nobody truly NEEDS any tech device, but smartphones and apps have become critical components in the lives of billions of people who rely on them for things like banking, health, accessibility, and more. Of course, we didn’t get to that point until many years into the iPhone’s life, so perhaps we’re just at the beginning of this VR journey and in 10 years the Vision Pro will be on billions of faces and we’ll wonder how we ever got by without them.
Right now though? I’m not totally sold. First is that price, $3,500. Yeah, when you take into account the technology and components that go into the headset itself, it’s not that wild but it’s still a price that’s well, WELL above what your average consumer would want to spend on a budding technology device like this. That’s pretty much how people felt about the first iPhone at $500 though, and I’m sure in time the price will come down while the price people are willing to spend on this type of thing will go up and eventually the two will meet in the middle.
Next is the headset itself. I just can’t picture wearing this thing for any long duration, and certainly not with other people around. Again, you could say the same thing about Air Pods and how silly everyone thought it would be to have two white stems hanging out of your ears, but here we are almost 7 years after AirPods debuted and you wouldn’t bat an eye at someone with fully wireless earbuds in their ears, AirPods or otherwise. That will likely become the case with whatever form AR/VR headsets take moving forward, and especially once they hit that critical size of being similar to a pair of regular glasses, if and when they do.
That’s another thing. I’m talking about this almost exclusively as a VR headset, but in reality this is more an AR headset with the capability of going full VR. It’s an important distinction, I think. My experiences with VR have felt very excluded from the rest of the world, but Vision Pro makes every effort to ensure you are aware of your surroundings. Crucially they also take into account people who may interact with you while you’re wearing the headset by displaying your actual eye expressions on the device’s external screen. I’m not going to lie, this is creepy as heck to me, but I understand why it’s there and it’s likely another thing that will just seem normal given enough time.
Finally: gaming. I mean, this is TouchArcade, after all. Well, there was a surprising lack of gaming talk during the Vision Pro announcement. They mention playing Apple Arcade games on a gigantic virtual screen, and they mentioned a partnership with Unity that will see AR/VR specific enhancements for games or apps built in the Unity Engine, but there was no full game demo or graphical showpiece game on display. I would have bet money that the No Man’s Sky announcement from last year’s WWDC would end up being the big demo game for Apple’s headset, but instead the topic of gaming was almost nonexistent. That seems very puzzling to me.
I’m sure I’ll have plenty more thoughts about Vision Pro as I sit and think about it some more, and as WWDC week continues and more details emerge from the development side of things. Apple doesn’t plan on making Vision Pro available until early 2024 in the US, with more countries to follow later in the year, but they obviously want developers to begin making software for it hence its unveiling during WWDC this week. While I’m still skeptical I’m also very excited about what Vision Pro could become, and I certainly want to try it firsthand before formulating any real hard opinions. Hey Apple, any chance you want to send one of these things to your favorite iPhone gaming blog?