I can be called an Apple fanboy. I’d push back on the notion that I love everything the company does but for better or worse, I’m ingrained in the Apple ecosystem and have been for more than two decades. So naturally, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Apple Vision Pro.
When Apple announced its new “spatial computing” headset last year, I found myself rapidly waffling between being amazed by the technology on offer to being offended by the price.
After months of mental gymnastics, I thankfully landed on the side that $3,500 is outrageous and that I’ll never pay it. Then I signed up for one of Apple’s Vision Pro demos.
By the end of the 30-minute session, sitting inside a bright and minimalist Apple Store nestled between a Forever 21, an empty and sad laser tag place, and some vacant storefronts, there was a brief moment where I almost pulled out my Apple Card — because of course I have one of those too.
I don’t make impulse purchases of that magnitude for many reasons, not the least of which is that I cannot afford to, but the fact that my willpower wavered if only briefly, is a testament to what Apple has achieved with the Vision Pro.
I’ve read the reviews, so I know that there are numerous issues with the first-generation Vision Pro, its extremely high price aside. The battery life is middling, at best. The headset is rather heavy. There aren’t that many native apps that take full advantage of what the Vision Pro and its new VisionOS offer. And there is a difference between a carefully curated demo experience and living with a technological device like Vision Pro.
I knew all these issues ahead walking through the local shopping mall for my Vision Pro demo. I also learned about new problems as I struggled through the facial scan process to get the correctly sized Vision Pro headbands. I noticed some unsightly chromatic aberration at times, introducing green and magenta edges to different windows inside the headset. I knew that spatial computing was not yet fully realized as I stumbled through learning the rather obtuse and odd VisionOS gestures. And yet, Apple, the sly devils, pulled me in and made me believe in what the Vision Pro represents, if not quite what it currently is.
The VisionOS experience itself is fine, even if there is a learning curve. Eye tracking, which drives system navigation alongside your hands, usually works well enough. However, there were moments when inaccuracy near the periphery of the display or having to pinch my fingers together multiple times to achieve a simple task broke the illusion that I was living inside Apple’s view of the future.
But when that illusion remained intact, Vision Pro delivered a view of the future I desperately want to revisit. Of course, it’s not the future. Not anymore. I could’ve walked out of the store with Vision Pro in tow.
Apple is far from the first company to release a headset that does some, or even most, of what Vision Pro does. I defer to VR headset experts on this matter, but the Vision Pro’s displays are so incredibly high-fidelity that they are practically lifelike. Bridging the gap between knowing you’re looking at screens and feeling like you are looking at the world has proven remarkably difficult, and there were occasions when I believed Apple had successfully done it.
The internal micro-OLED displays, which have pixels about the same size as red blood cells, look so lifelike that I forgot I was technically an observer of the world in front of me. The delay between what the Vision Pro so expertly sees in front of me and me seeing the world on the internal displays is about 12 milliseconds.
The most impressive part of using the Vision Pro is undoubtedly an exceptional “Immersive Experience” that Apple has crafted thanks to spatial video cameras. I watched a grizzly bear walk by, saw and heard kids playing soccer, watched pros play soccer, too, for that matter, and did a tightrope walk over a ravine. I’m not afraid of heights, but there was a brief moment when I looked down and felt my stomach drop.
Before my demo, the Apple Store employee told me about people who, despite his recommendations (the cameras to monitor your hands are designed to view your hands below, not in front of, the Vision Pro headset), felt compelled to reach out to the space in front of them. I thought to myself, “That won’t be me. I know that this is all just virtual stuff.” But when a baby Black African rhinoceros walked toward me during the demo, I couldn’t help myself. My hand moved toward it. It all felt so real.
As for regular video content, it looked great, too, but it didn’t embody the three-dimensional feel of the special spatial video.
Speaking of which, iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max can record spatial photos and videos, and I saw those too, including some children playing with bubbles and someone having a birthday party, cake front and center, like I could blow out the candles myself.
Apple should feature this more heavily in its marketing for Vision Pro. On the drive home, I repeatedly told my partner, “This is a game changer for preserving precious moments. You can relive beloved people and places in a fundamentally different way. You could practically go back in time.”
It’s funny, as Apple tries to get people to buy into the future of spatial computing, a future I’m very much looking forward to being part of when the price is right, I find myself stuck on the idea of preserving the past in a way that no other device can.
There’s actually a lot about Vision Pro that interests me as a photographer. Seeing panoramic photos during the demo was jaw-dropping, and the idea of writing articles and editing pictures in an immersive and gorgeous landscape environment is tempting.
The Vision Pro has spatial cameras, too, although the example I saw during the demo was noisy and lacked overall fidelity. That will surely improve in future generations.
As the pleasant shock of my demo wore off, it became evident that Apple has ample work to do to make the Apple Vision Pro more useful and accessible for more people. But Apple has achieved something remarkable, albeit imperfect. I have never been as excited about any new product.
If you can sign up for an Apple Vision Pro demo at a local Apple Store, I highly recommend it. It will be a half-hour well spent.
Image credits: Apple