On June 5, 2023, at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, I got a chance to try the hyped Vision Pro headset firsthand. So, does the headset live up to the manufacturer’s promise? Yes, it does—at least for the most part.
However, there are a few places where the gadget falls short of our expectations. Well, this is expected as the headset introduced an all-new paradigm in computing. Advertised as an independent spatial computer, Vision Pro integrates digital media into your immediate surroundings.
During my 30-minute demo, Apple representatives took me through the setup process. Thereafter, I got a chance to test some of the Vision Pro’s virtual and augmented reality capabilities.
Read on to find out how the Vision Pro headset looks, feels, and performs as well as my unbiased opinion of the headset.
Is Apple Vision Pro a VR or AR Headset?
While unveiling the headset at the WWDC23, Apple introduced the Vision Pro as a spatial computer. This left many enthusiasts like yourself wondering, is the Vision Pro virtual reality (VR) or an augmented reality (AR) device?
Vision Pro features both VR and AR functionality, making it one of the very first mixed-reality headsets out there. In its functioning, the headset displays immersive virtual content and overlays augmented reality content onto the physical world around you.
However, it is worth noting that the Vision Pro is not a see-through kind of headset. Everything you see on its display is digital content. In this regard, Apple uses cameras to map out your surroundings and translate this into a digital image.
As a result, you get to experience augmented reality content that is overlaid with your current surroundings. To deliver a vertical reality experience, the headset shuts the cameras. What’s more, you can control the transition between the real and the immersive using the built-in Digital Crown on the headset.
- The design features a sleek and futuristic appeal
- Heightened duo-chip performance
- Built-in Digital Crown to control the level of immersion
- Intuitive user interface that uses eye tracking and hand gestures for input
- The micro-OLED displays are super crisp
- The external battery can only last for up to 2 hours on a full charge. Again, the introductory price for this headset is somewhat high.
Preparation and Setup for the Vision Pro Demo
My experience with the Vision Pro headset was simply exhilarating, but I’ll divulge more about that shortly. First, let me reiterate the events leading up to the actual Vision Pro demo. Some Vision Pro headsets were displayed inside the Steve Jobs Theater for all to see.
I met my contact from the Apple PR in the Steve Jobs Theater and together we traversed through the campus in a golf cart. Upon entering the Field House, I could see a few more Vision Pro headsets displayed in the common area.
Before trying my hands on the headset, I had to take a few setup steps, as follows:
1) The iPhone Scan
I was given an iPhone that I was to use for the initial setup process. First, I was required to take a fascial scan whereby I had to turn my face in a circle. This scan felt much like a Face ID scan. I came to learn that this scan was meant to determine the appropriate LightSeal size and shape for my face.
After that, I was required to take a side-to-side scan of my head. I was told that this scan specifically measured my ears. This helps customize Spatial Audio on the headset to my ears.
2) Vision Check
From an earlier presentation, I was aware that you can’t use Vision Pro with your sunglasses on. However, I didn’t know that Apple had devised such an ingenious plan to address this shortcoming.
They have partnered with ZEISS to produce optical inserts that attach magnetically to the headset. According to the manufacturer, the inserts can be customized to each user’s prescription. That said, I am still skeptical as to whether this solution will cater to all vision prescriptions.
For the vision check stage, I was asked to hand my prescription glasses over. The glasses were scanned through a piece of equipment that quickly figured my vision prescription out. When I stepped into the demonstration room, they already had a pair of Zeiss optical inserts for me—matching my prescription.
My Vision Pro Demo Experience
With everything ready, I was led to the private demo room where I met with two Apple representatives. First off, I was prohibited from taking any pictures or videos throughout the demo. Secondly, I could only have the headset to myself for just 30 minutes.
I learned how to use the intuitive user interface in a minute or two. This is quite a short learning curve for new technology of such complexity. Much has been said about the Vision Pro headset and VisionOS, but how does the headset fair in reality?
Here are some of the notable observations I made during the demo:
Is Vision Pro Heavy?
Judging from its size, many have been misled to believe that Vision Pro is a heavy headset. On the contrary, the main headset unit weighs about a pound. I believe this was made possible by using aluminum alloy for the frame and an external battery.
The silver battery pack is connected to the headset via a braided white cable. The power cable features a mechanical latch on the end that attaches to the headset. The other end of the power cable is permanently fixed onto the battery pack.
To charge the Vision Pro external battery, you need to use a USB-C adapter that is plugged directly into the battery. Owing to the limited demo period, I can’t say much about the battery performance. However, the manufacturer claims that it can support the device for up to 2 hours on a full charge.
The Main Home View
With the headset powered on, I could see the Home View displayed before my eyes. This, as I was later told, displays the most used applications (apps) on the headset. Mine was showing such apps as Messages, Mail, Safari, Music, and Photos.
It was relatively easy for me to launch any of the displayed apps using the eye tracking feature and an easy pinch hand gesture. As soon as you open an app, you are introduced to a virtual environment, thanks to Apple’s innovative pass-through feature.
To me, the apps appeared to have been superimposed onto the virtual screen. From this Home View screen, you can easily open an app, set it aside, open more apps, and move them to the bigger virtual screen. It seemed as though I had a 100-inch big-screen TV as my display.
An Infinite Display Canvas
With VisionOS, you can have your favorite apps fill the space around you—beyond the confines of a conventional display. I was able to move the apps to just anywhere on the display and scale them to my preferred size. To move an app, I simply had to stare at a bar, positioned at the bottom of the app, then move my eyes to where I want to pin the app.
It was rather intriguing to see the apps react to the lighting conditions in the room and cast shadows. With such infinite possibilities, it is easy to tailor the workspace to your liking.
Expand the View Area With Environments
Grow the viewable space on your Vision Pro beyond the dimensions of your current space. This is possible with the Environments functionality of the software. Using the Digital Crown on the unit, I was able to control my level of immersion into the environment.
I also liked the wide choice of landscapes Apple offers for the device. For instance, I could replace the ceiling in the room with an open, clear sky. With this feature, you can choose to reduce or focus clutter in a busy working space.
Most of the apps I could see on the headset were the ones developed for other Apple devices. As such, many of them are still presented in traditional windows. Though few, the device boasts a few apps that have been developed from the ground up, specifically for mixed reality.
I found those to be the most compelling of all the apps Vision Pro has to offer. One such app is the Mindfulness meditation app. This app encourages you to relax, using voice prompts alongside claiming animation. Lunching this app made me feel like I was right there, in the middle of the action.
Watching a dinosaur enter my virtual living room was like nothing else I have ever encountered before. I even stretched my hand a bit and a butterfly landed on my finger. As for the dinosaur, it seemed to perceive my movements because it kept following me around.
In my opinion, the headset needs a lot more apps like this to tap into its full potential. With Disney as one of its early partners, I am confident that things are heading in the right direction.
Video Streaming Experience
The Vision Pro prototype I was using had a number of VR demos that make other VR headsets look like trash. I got to view a few 180-degree, three-dimensional videos with Spatial Audio in the so-called Apple Immersive Video Format.
Watching videos of baseball, soccer, and baseball games on the headset made me feel as though I was just on the sidelines as the game was being played. I was also shown a 3-D version of the Avatar: The Way of Water sci-fi film.
Although the movie was displayed on a big screen, It felt as if I was inside the movie. It felt like the actors were role-playing right in front of my eyes in real time.
The Immersive 3-D Experience
You can also take 3-D videos as well as photos using the built-in camera. You just need to tap on the tap-on button at the top of the headset. Well, I didn’t get to take a picture or video on the headset, but was lucky to explore some that were already saved in the device.
In what was described as spatial photo and video, I was able to view photos on a life-size scale. I also liked the color and detail, coupled with the spatial audio experience I got from watching the 3D videos on Vision Pro.
In one such video, a group of friends was sitting around a campfire. Everything was in 3D and it certainly felt like I was sitting among them.
Although the device seems to be lacking a few things, the experience was simply breathtaking. The spatial experience it offers is possible through trend-setting technology by the manufacturer.
In reality, the displays are just the size of a postage stamp, but deliver the best visual experience I’ve ever had. I mean, each of the two displays can deliver more pixels than a 4K TV despite their small size.
Despite the high introductory pricing, I think that Vision Pro is a great device. And since this is just the prototype, I believe that the real thing will be much better.