We’re still reeling a bit from today’s announcement of Vision Pro, Apple’s biggest new platform/hardware product rollout in years. The enormity of the entirely new computing interface the company is trying to sell here is matched only by the augmented reality headset’s significant $3,499 starting price.
Whether or not Apple’s gambit here can succeed in a headset-curious but still largely headset-skeptical market will depend in large part on the quality of the “immersive” experience Apple can deliver, and the answers to questions that can only be answered by actually putting this thing on our heads. Before we get that eyes- and hands-on time, though, here are some immediate thoughts on how to position Vision Pro in the market and in your mind.
Don’t judge Vision Pro by the standards of VR
Comparing the Vision Pro to the current state of the art in virtual reality makes its value proposition seems like a real uphill climb for Apple. After all, for the same price as just one Vision Pro you could buy three-and-a-half Quest Pro headsets (after its recent price drop to $999) or a full seven of Meta’s upcoming Quest 3 headsets (one for every day of the week).
But while the Vision Pro looks a bit like existing VR headsets, this is first and foremost an augmented reality device (i.e. one that projects images on top of your natural view of the “real world”). That puts it in the same category as Microsoft’s Hololens 2, which launched for developers at $3,500 in 2019, or the Magic Leap 2, which launched for $3,299 last year.
That difference matters for more than price competitiveness reasons. The use cases for a true augmented reality device go way beyond those for a dedicated virtual reality device (which fully blocks your view of the real world).
To see how, note that the software market for VR headsets is currently dominated by games and other interactive experiences that usually have you stand in an all-encompassing virtual environment. Apple’s presentation today, by contrast, barely mentioned gaming. Instead, it mainly showed Vision Pro users lounging on their couch and flicking through apps or movies, or sitting at a keyboard and working on massive virtual displays (not to mention getting up to grab a drink from the fridge without taking the headset off, something that is tough in VR even with quality passthrough cameras).
Those Vision Pro users were shown using casual gestures to wander through an iOS style environment, rather than using the kinds of big motions that characterize interactions in VR games. Vision Pro doesn’t even come with handheld controllers, which could make it difficult to port existing VR games that rely on those controllers.
Whether Apple’s device can live up to the vision presented by this carefully crafted presentation is an open question. But the different focus highlights just how different this AR headset could be from previous VR headsets—if they can get it right.