About Apple’s Vision Pro:
- It’s heavy, expensive, and impractical.
- It’s an incredible feat of engineering, but it’s also still a prototype.
- Apple has already reinvented the “correct” way to interact in AR space.
The Vision Pro is now arriving with buyers, and the reviews are in. It’s big, it’s heavy, and its battery dangles from a cable, but apparently, there’s one surprise feature that has already changed how we will use all VR devices in the future.
Apple’s Vision Pro is an exquisitely built virtual-reality headset with a few hardware twists. The most obvious is the big screen on the front, which Apple considers so important that it is willing to take the hit on the weight of the heavy glass and OLED. Another difference is that Apple chose to use a separate battery on a cord, instead of mounting the battery in the unit. But the biggest feature is, in typical Apple fashion, how well this hardware works with the software to genuinely create a new kind of computing.
“My initial reaction to the reviews is that I want one even more than I did when speculation was running rampant as to its tech specs, form factor, use cases, etc. What’s clear is that the Vision Pro has raised the bar considerably on what’s possible with cutting-edge, consumer-facing XR technology, and I can’t wait to start exploring what’s possible with one,” Christopher Bellaci, a general manager for in-car VR company Holoride, told Lifewire via email.
Let’s start with the hardware. All the reviewers, from Marques Brownlee to Apple pundit John Gruber to The Verge’s Nilay Patel, remark on the weight. Apple insists on using aluminum and glass instead of plastic, which made this unit so heavy that it had to break out the battery into a separate pack. The other problem with this design is that the weight is all at the front. It’s easy to wear heavy headphones because the center of gravity is in the middle of your head. The Vision Pro’s design sticks it all out at the front.
The battery pack, too, is heavy. “It’s closer in thickness and weight to two iPhone 15s than it is to one,” says Gruber in his review. This, is even though the Vision Pro has almost the same battery capacity as one iPhone 15: 3,166 mAh vs 3,274 mAh.
It’s also pretty complex to make this thing fit. According to one Reddit post, there are 28 different light seal sizes. The light seal works in concert with the face cushions to block out all external light, so getting the right one is essential.
But all of this disappears once you get the thing running. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Tim Cook’s description of the early Vision Pro prototypes makes it sound more like a machine you put your head inside. It might be useful to think of the current hardware in the same way. It’s clearly not Apple’s end game, any more than the original iPhone bears much technical resemblance to the current model.
The Vision Pro is similar to that OG iPhone in another important way—and I don’t mean the curvy, thickness-hiding aluminium edges. That first iPhone was woefully underpowered; it had slow internet and even slower HTML webpage rendering. Apple knew this and prioritized responsiveness. If you flicked a webpage, scrolling it too fast for the iPhone to keep up, it would replace the webpage with a grey and white checkerboard to let you know it was at least keeping up with your gestures.
The Vision Pro is similar in that it prioritizes the experience. Only this time, the hardware has plenty of power—it’s just not small enough yet.
And what an experience. Apple had one chance to get this right, and apparently, it has nailed it. It’s great for watching movies, which can be blown up to IMAX size. And the spatial computing component is also compelling. This allows you to place windows in virtual space, and they stay put. You can arrange several “screens” or apps around you and lock things into place in the real world.
The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern made a video of herself spending 24 hours in the headset. When she dragged individual timers over the top of her pasta pot and mushroom pan while cooking dinner, and they just hung right over them, ready to glance at, she called it “just the coolest.”
Not everything is great in Vision Pro software land. The avatars that the unit uses for FaceTime videos are odd at best and quite distracting. And the front-facing screen, the one that Apple added to connect you to other people out in the real world, is very hard to see. I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets ditched in subsequent models.
And finally, we can again go back to that original iPhone. Before the iPhone, it was not obvious that a phone should be a slab of glass with a multitouch interface, pinch-to-zoom, and so on, but that’s what every phone has done since. The same is already becoming true of the Vision Pro’s clever interaction method, where you look at what you want to manipulate and pinch to ‘click’ on it. It’s so good that Facebook has already copied it for the next update to its Meta Quest headsets. Not bad for something that is only just arriving with buyers today.