I’m not what you would call an early adopter of tech. For several years after they launched, I didn’t see the point of touch screens, clinging to my Nokia and my click-wheel iPod. Virtual reality headsets aimed at gamers, such as Meta’s Quest, have therefore never really appealed.
But something changed while I watched the glossy launch video for Apple’s new and much-anticipated Vision Pro ‘mixed reality’ headset. About five minutes in, a woman dons one on a plane to watch a movie, blissfully unaware of her surroundings. That’s exactly what I need for my next WizzAir flight, I thought.
For those living under a rock for the past 24 hours or so, Vision Pro is the company’s biggest new product launch in years and its first really new one since the Apple Watch in 2015. The ski goggle-like gadget boasts a high-res screen for each eye that overlays digital images onto the real world. Users can browse apps, watch entertainment and record video with simple hand gestures.
Apple promises Vision Pro will seamlessly blend the digital and real worlds in a way that’s been a Holy Grail for hardware companies for years – but competitors’ efforts have left most consumers cold.
I’m convinced that’s about to change – despite the $3,499 (£2,820) price tag.
What Apple got right about the Vision Pro launch
Go watch Meta’s widely-ridiculed metaverse launch video. Then watch the Vision Pro version (which has already been viewed 10m times).
Apple’s is wall-to-wall aspiration: chiselled models in beautiful clothes, lounging around enormous homes. It’s all a world away from the primary-coloured cartoon office hellscape Meta conjured up.
Perhaps remembering just how dorky Mark Zuckerberg looked in one, CEO Tim Cook swerved strapping on a headset. So far, it appears that no one over the age of 35 or not blessed with razor-sharp cheekbones has been allowed near a Vision Pro. (Wise, as the bulky headset is still a few iterations from looking genuinely cool.)
But despite the glossiness, Apple has made it easy for the average consumer to see how VR will fit into their everyday life. It doesn’t try to introduce big, weird concepts like the metaverse.
Gaming has been banished to a five-second clip – instead, we see the possibilities of watching wraparound TV, flicking through videos of your children or logging on to a work FaceTime without leaving the couch. Apple even linked up with Disney as if to underscore just how normal and mainstream all this new tech is.
Unlike Meta, with its legless avatars, Apple has also tackled the very human ‘ick’ feeling around the antisocial nature of VR head on.
Its headsets project a digital image of the user’s eyes onto the outside of the screen to avoid alienating outsiders. There’s also a dial to increase or decrease the amount of reality that’s allowed in and people walking close to you will automatically pop into view.
Cook was keen to emphasise that Vision Pro might make you more involved in real life than say, a smartphone does, pointing out “it’s the first device you look through and not at”.
Is it a bridge too far?
Yes, attitudes are going to take more than just one video to shift. I personally can’t quite get over the Black Mirror vibes of the man shown watching his children play through a device that covers most of his face. Hearing that the tech in the headset can predict what a user will click on, before they actually do, doesn’t help.
But the first round of reviews has been positive. A huge investment in hardware has apparently fixed the VR nausea many used to experience, and the gesture controls are “near perfect”, tech site The Verge reports. “I just wore the future” another reviewer gushed.
With every new product Apple’s marketers have managed to shift the window of what tech we will happily attach to our bodies. It’s not so long ago people bemoaned the usefulness of a giant iPhone, touch-screen watch or enormous Bluetooth headphones, yet the iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods Max are all here to stay.
Will I buy a Vision Pro? At this price tag, absolutely not. But I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself putting a version of it on my airport packing list by 2030.