EletiofeApple’s Vision Pro Headset Shows the Future of Computing...

Apple’s Vision Pro Headset Shows the Future of Computing Is Bulky and Weird

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I spent a little more than 30 minutes wearing the Apple Vision Pro today, and I saw the future of computing. The impressive technology in Apple’s upcoming mixed-reality headset lays the groundwork for what’s to come, but I am at a crossroads. I’m not sold on the bulky headset.

Apple announced the Vision Pro at its Worldwide Developer Conference last year. It’s a $3,500 wearable computing platform you don over your head. Preorders start tomorrow, January 19, and it goes on sale on February 2, which is when you’ll be able to demo it at Apple Stores worldwide. My time with it today showcased a final version of the official hardware with some new experiences.

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OK Computer

Photograph: Apple

The Vision Pro operates completely independently, so you don’t need to pair it with another device. Once you’re wearing it, you’ll be interfacing with visionOS, Apple’s new spatial operating system which offers a unique software experience that somehow feels familiar. It’s kind of like iOS but suspended in midair. You can watch movies, revisit memories in the Photos app, play games, and even do some work.

This last point is what attracts me the most. I would love to have the ability to open multiple windows and create a desktop-like experience in confined spaces like a coffee shop or airplane. You can connect a wireless keyboard and mouse to the Vision Pro if you want to get real work done, or you can stare at your MacBook’s screen to bring it into visionOS over Wi-Fi (powered by the laptop); here, you can add other virtual screens to supplement your work.

If you have glasses like me, you’ll have to order prescription Zeiss optical inserts for $149 (you can get readers for $99). These magnetically attach to the optical lenses inside the Vision Pro. I gave Apple my prescription ahead of time, so my demo unit was prepped and I was able to wear it without glasses on.

My colleague Lauren Goode got to try the Vision Pro last year at WWDC, and much of her experience lines up with mine. At the start, you’re asked to scan your face twice on an iPhone, just like you would to set up Face ID. Before you pop on the headset, you can choose between two options for the headband included in the box: the Solo Knit Band or the Dual Loop Band.

Me wearing the headset.

Photograph: Apple

Over the past few days, I’ve read about fellow journalists having issues with the fit or struggling with the weight of the headset, and I was fully expecting to run into the same woes today. I wore the Solo Knit Band and surprisingly felt fine with the weight even after 30 minutes. I initially felt some pressure on my forehead, but I adjusted the headband to sit a little higher, and it balanced the weight between my forehead and cheekbones, which made the headset more comfortable to wear. Apple says customers will be able to get help with the fit at the Apple Store, and if you’re not near a store, you’ll be able to replicate this assistance via the iPhone. One issue I did run into was a bit of light leaking through the nose bridge of the headset, but this only was apparent when I was experiencing specific content in a dark setting. Even then, I kind of forgot about it after a few seconds.

The elephant in the room is the battery pack. There’s a wire protruding out the left side of the headset that leads to a rectangular battery, which lasts for around two hours on a single charge. You can plug in the battery to an outlet to keep the Vision Pro running for hours, but if you want to move around—say, if you’re running an interactive experience or playing a spatial game—you’ll have to stow the battery in a pocket. It’s an inelegant solution and showcases the limitations with the technology that even Apple couldn’t get around (and this is likely why Apple has tried so hard to hide the battery’s presence from its marketing and press images). Thankfully, after 30 minutes of Vision Pro-ing, the battery was still cool to the touch.

Photograph: Apple

Arguably the most impressive part of the Vision Pro for me is how you interact with it. You’ll run through some calibrations during setup, but the controls are effectively a combination of your eyes and fingers. Look at an app and it’ll be highlighted; just tap your index finger and thumb to select it. The interface understands what you’re looking at, so to move an app window, just look at the pill-shaped bar at the bottom, make the tap gesture, and place it wherever you want. It quickly dawned on me just how much data is being collected from my gaze, but Apple promises this information is stored away securely. Advertisers won’t know how long you spent staring at an ad.

It’s incredible how easily the Vision Pro picks up these finger gestures. You don’t need to raise your hands at all; I kept mine by my lap and it was very easy to scroll through the interface as well as pinch and zoom. If you need to type, you can use voice dictation, but there’s a virtual keyboard too. Sure, you can try to type on the virtual keyboard, but this was much harder than it looked and I kept hitting the wrong keys. It’s much easier to just stare at the key you want to press and tap your fingers to select, and I was reasonably fast at it too. Naturally, if you’re going to be typing a lot, you should just connect a wireless keyboard.

The Eraser

I ran through several demos during my brief 30 minutes, and there was a mix of augmented reality and virtual reality throughout. What do I mean by this? On the top right of the headset is a crown you can rotate, just like the one on the Apple Watch. Rotate it clockwise and you can erase the world around you for a virtual “Environment.”

Photograph: Apple

Mine was the view of a volcano in Maui, which looked beautiful. In the Disney+ app, I was able to set my environment to be Avengers HQ or Tatooine (pod-racing, anyone?), and you can watch a movie or show in this setting with dimmed surroundings. I watched a brief 3D clip from The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which looked wonderfully sharp. Apple says it’s working with studios to create a library of 3D movies available via Apple TV. I can see myself catching up on a show or movie in visionOS if my wife is hogging the TV, but it’ll depend on how it feels to wear the Vision Pro for more than 30 minutes.

If you hear someone talking near you and you look in their general direction, you’ll experience People Awareness, where you’ll see a faint image of the person bleeding through your environment. It’s weird, like the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi interrupting whatever you’re doing.

If you prefer to just augment the space you’re in, you can rotate the crown counterclockwise and the world around you comes back. You’re looking at it via “passthrough”; the cameras on the outside of the Vision Pro headset are feeding you images of the space you’re in. It initially feels jarring because it’s a little pixelated, but it’s one of those things you get used to quickly.

I used the JigSpace app to take apart an F1 race car with my fingers, which didn’t feel too far from this scene in Iron Man 2. I had a meditative minute in the Mindfulness app, which was the best breathing exercise I’ve ever done compared to the smartphone and smartwatch experience. I was able to try an interactive spatial demo called Encounter Dinosaurs, where I watched these large creatures move around rocks and they took note of my existence. A butterfly even landed on my finger and I almost was waiting to feel something on my skin.

Photograph: Apple

Ordinary images and videos in the Photos app look crisp and sharp on the micro-OLED panel in the Vision Pro. Then there are the spatial videos and photos. These can be captured via the iPhone 15 Pro models or through the Vision Pro headset itself (just tap the button on the left side of the headset), but they look grainy. However, they are much more effective at placing you in the scene you’re watching than a simple 2D image.

My problem? Apple’s idea of walking around the house and capturing footage of your kids having some cake while you’re wearing a headset. It’s one thing to capture these on your phone and then revisit them on the headset, but Apple showcased a few examples directly captured from the Vision Pro while your family is doing family things and having fun. It’s bizarre. No one else was wearing a Vision Pro. Just Dad. Stop it, Dad.

This lines up with EyeSight, which is what other people will see when you’re wearing the headset. Once calibrated, the exterior display on the Vision Pro will create an approximation of your eyes and mimic your eye’s movements and blinks, so if you want to talk to someone without taking the headset off, they can see how you’re emoting as you speak. I spoke to an Apple employee as he wore the headset, and let me just say that this is also bizarre. The animation looks fuzzy and I really would prefer it if you took the headset off when you’re talking to me for anything more than a few sentences.

Photograph: Apple

I’m most excited to work in visionOS, to browse the web with a variety of virtual screens around me. The interface is polished and slick. But at the same time, the Vision Pro feels like a mismatch of hardware and software. I don’t want to wear a bulky headset at the coffee shop or airplane and figure out where to place the battery pack. I don’t even know if I want to do that for hours when I’m alone at home.

The technology is impressive, and as it progresses it will inevitably shrink so that one day, you’ll just be wearing normal-looking glasses. I hope. God, I really do hope that’s the direction we’re going.

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