EletiofeThe One Part of the Vision Pro That Apple...

The One Part of the Vision Pro That Apple Doesn’t Want You to See

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Apple’s new Vision Pro mixed-reality headset goes on sale tomorrow, and the hype cycle has officially begun. The pricey product, which could be a giant bust or mark the beginning of a new era of spatial computing, was placed firmly on the heads of a first round of tech journalists and influencers earlier this week. WIRED’s Julian Chokkattu had a demo today and reported that the technology is impressive, even if the user experience is a little awkward.

Apple’s mixed-reality headset is both in an existing product category and distinct from it. Like Meta’s Quest headset, which originated from the Oculus line, it fully covers the eyes and forehead. Like Meta’s Quest headset, Apple uses (impressive) pass-through video tech so that the wearer can still opt to see the outside world through the goggles. And as with the Meta Quest, a lot of the apps run as 2D applications in a 3D environment, meaning the apps themselves aren’t fully volumetric, but they’re projected into your field of vision with apparent depth.

But Apple’s Vision Pro has one key differentiator from the Meta Quest: It has an external aluminum battery pack. This battery pack is tethered, via a cable, to the headset. That means whoever is wearing the headset has to carry around the external battery in their pocket, or place it next to them while they sit in the Appleverse.

Apple seems to not want you to notice the battery. The external battery pack barely appears on the product page on Apple’s website, showing up only at the end of a photo gallery at the bottom of the page. And in demo sessions this week, Apple told journalists they were not allowed to snap photos or capture any video of the hardware, an unusual rule for a press briefing. Instead, the company had its own photographer take photos during the Vision Pro demos. Every photo you’ve seen this week of reporters sitting on a couch while wearing the headset were shot by Apple.

Notably, the battery pack doesn’t appear in any of them. One attendee chose to run the attached cable down the back of his sweatshirt. In another shared image, of The Verge’s Nilay Patel, the cable is clearly visible, but the photo is cropped to avoid showing the battery pack. Chokkattu experienced this too; he set the Vision Pro’s battery pack on the couch cushion next to him during his demo, but in the photo Apple shared with us, the offending pack is cropped out of the frame.

WIRED’s Julian Chokkattu wears the Vision Pro. Apple supplied this photo; the battery pack on the sofa next to Julian is not shown in the frame.

Photograph: Apple

It doesn’t take a serious sleuth to spot the pattern in the photos. The battery pack is probably the most inelegant element of what is an otherwise unblemished product. It’s an explicit design decision: Pack the battery into the headset itself and risk adding an untenable amount of weight, or attach an external battery to offload that weight and make room for advanced sensors. It’s representative of the technical trade-offs that exist in virtual reality that even Apple can’t engineer its way out of.

“Everyone wants light fluffy headsets without battery sets,” says Jeremy Bailenson, a longtime VR researcher and founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. “But you can’t have everything. You can’t have incredible eye and finger tracking without those sensors. VR is always about trade-offs.”

Power Play

Victoria Song of The Verge.

Courtesy of Nilay Patel

The obfuscation of the Vision Pro battery pack only makes its existence that much more notable, raising two questions in particular: How does Apple envision people using this thing? And is having an external battery pack a serious hindrance to that usability?

All signs indicate that Apple believes that this version of the Vision Pro is for sitting—for working and watching movies and browsing old photos (now in 3D!) and even FaceTiming. Apple has called it “the ultimate workspace” and “an infinite canvas for multitasking and collaborating.” Most Vision Pro demos, including my own last June, were seated demos aside from one interaction with a Jon Favreau–created dinosaur video.

The Vision Pro headset includes gesture control technology that frees the wearer’s hands from controllers, another distinction from the Meta Quest Pro and Meta Quest 3, which do include controllers. Nearly every Meta Quest experience I’ve had involves standing: multiplayer gaming, punching the air in a fitness app, or peering down at a virtual world map and then zooming in on a vacation location.

Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal.

Courtesy of Joanna Stern

If Vision Pro is mostly meant to be used from a couch cushion or desk chair, the external battery pack may not factor in as much. As I pointed out last spring, it’s an unusual choice for a consumer tech company that has, over the past two decades, created products that we transport with us, literally everywhere we go.

Some industry experts are split on the external battery design. Bailenson, for one, believes that headset computing should be optimized for shorter durations. “After 30 minutes, it’s probably time to take off the headset and go about your day and touch some walls and drink some water,” he says. “So in this instance there really shouldn’t be a need for an external battery pack, in my opinion, because most experiences are short.”

Sam Cole, the cofounder and chief executive of FitXR, a fitness app popular on the Meta Quest, says that, “controversially,” he doesn’t believe the Vision Pro battery pack will be “as much of a factor for fitness apps as it will be for sitting and working for hours.”

By the way, here’s what it looks like.

Photograph: Philip Pacheco/Getty Images

“Even when headsets are bulkier, our users tend to forget about the cable, forget about the battery pack, because you’re so focused on punches being thrown at you,” Cole says. “The weight distribution and the accessories become much more topical when you’re thinking about working on a headset or sitting on calls for four hours.”

But Cole also says, battery pack aside, “all of the Vision Pro’s factors put together have led us to believe it’s a really high-quality experience. This is going to be as good as Meta Quest 3 if not better.”

Prior examples might not necessarily help read the battery tea leaves, either. Early versions of the Magic Leap AR goggles had an external “compute pack” that was designed for the wearer’s waistband. Microsoft’s HoloLens, on the other hand, packed what felt like an entire PC on your head. Neither product was successful; the placement of the battery pack was moot.

Apple did not respond to an inquiry as to why journalists and influencers were not able to take their own photos of Vision Pro or if the company plans to share more images of the battery.

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