On June 5, the world learned about the much-anticipated Apple VR headset people had been speculating on. The Apple Vision Pro is the company’s first foray into virtual reality (VR). Apple’s device brings images, movies, games and video chats to life in high definition, blurring the lines between the real and the digital — and it has the tech world abuzz. But will it ever make VR popular with the general public?
VR technology has existed for years, but the Apple Vision Pro differs in many ways. It blends VR with augmented reality (AR) seamlessly. Users can spin the headset’s digital crown clockwise to make their actual surroundings fade out, letting them look at the digital world. Turning it counterclockwise allows people to see more of their real environment.
This pass-through technology is unique to Apple’s virtual reality headset. The device isn’t actually transparent — when users look around their room, for example, they use cameras to view their surroundings accurately and without lag. The device has both outward- and inward-facing cameras to create this effect.
The Apple VR headset also lets other people see a user’s eyes — or a projection of them — when looking at their surroundings. This feature enables face-to-face conversations even while wearing the headset.
The headset displays a blurred version of the content outside the device if the user watches a movie or plays a game. It’s akin to a visual do not disturb tag that lets people know the VR user can’t see them.
Two of the most-talked-about features are the sound and visual display. The headset uses spatial audio to map users’ surroundings and conform the sound waves to their ears. Its displays deliver more pixels than a 4K TV to each eye, letting users scale images to enormous sizes without losing resolution.
Another unique feature of the Apple VR headset is the lack of handheld controls. Its user interface relies entirely on eye-tracking, dictation and slight hand gestures. The optic technology also improves security, employing an authentication system to scan irises to unlock the headset or make purchases.
People can use Apple’s virtual reality headset as a standalone device. It contains an M2 and R1 chip for processing and receives a Wi-Fi connection. However, it can also connect to Mac computers and Bluetooth devices for enhanced capabilities.
The Apple VR headset is a first-generation product — at a whopping $3,500, it isn’t ready for the masses yet. However, its 2024 release will follow Apple’s tried-and-true approach of creating costly devices and waiting for early adopters to decide what best to do with them.
Apple tends to refine existing products and bring them into the mainstream market. The IBM Simon — which was only for sale from 1994 to 1995 — was the world’s first smartphone, but smartphones didn’t explode in popularity until 2007 with the release of the first iPhone.
The product was an instant hit and sold 270,000 units within the first 30 hours on the market. Early adopters paid $599, but just three months later, Apple lowered the price to $399. Within a year, the iPhone became more widely available to the general public with a $199 price tag.
Similarly, the debut of the Apple Watch in 2015 marked the beginning of Apple’s domination of the existing smartwatch market. Customers were initially slow to adopt the product, and the media even labeled it a flop. However, when Apple began marketing the watch for fitness instead of luxury and fashion, the technology quickly garnered mainstream appeal.
If the new VR headset follows in the footsteps of the iPhone, Apple Watch and iPod, it will become more popular now that Apple is producing it — but it will take time to do so.
Customer experience is an important factor in purchasing decisions for 73% of shoppers. Apple already has a loyal customer base, and people consider it a reputable brand. Therefore, they are more likely to adopt VR now that it bears the Apple logo.
Though it has impressive features and is backed by a company with a strong track record, the Apple headset is not without its flaws. A few early-access users and journalists have already tested the headset and reported on what they did — and didn’t — like about it. One of the most common complaints was that the metal-and-glass headset is physically heavy. However, technological improvements could lighten that load in the future, just like with computers and phones.
Another point of contention was the nausea and disorientation some people felt after wearing the headset. This effect is common with any VR technology. Some may not be comfortable using headsets, just as many get motion sickness when watching 3D movies. This may limit how widespread VR can become.
Many users also felt uneasy about the FaceTime digital avatar feature. The Apple Vision Pro scans a user’s face and renders a digital version of their image for video chats. Ideally, it’s supposed to look like they aren’t wearing a headset. However, some people got an uncanny valley effect from interacting with the digital avatars, which they said didn’t look quite right. Luckily, Apple has plenty of time to improve this feature before the release date.
The Apple Vision Pro’s battery life is only two hours when the device is unplugged. However, people can use it indefinitely if they keep it plugged in. Developers will almost certainly create bigger external battery packs to support a longer battery life.
Lastly, as with all current VR technology, users can’t share their viewing experience with other people. The device is excellent for video conferencing, working and playing video games alone, but it doesn’t support local multiplayer experiences.
The new Apple VR headset isn’t perfect, but it has several outstanding features that make it potentially useful for many activities.
Perhaps the most mainstream use case is remote work, especially for people who like to pack light. The headset is a high-definition TV, computer and phone all in one, and it’s portable. Users don’t even need a desk to start working.
Headsets can be very useful for people with certain disabilities. They allow users to work from home using only their eyes, dictation or slight finger movements. Individuals with vision or hearing impairments can use VR to play video games, attend virtual sports events or read books without missing a beat.
VR headset users can tune out the world without disturbing other passengers on long flights or bus rides. They can work, watch movies or meditate on a virtual beach during their commute. The Apple Vision Pro could even let people change their surroundings at home — imagine reading under a ceiling full of stars or in a room that looks like a forest.
Consumer applications like gaming account for 53% of the VR market but aren’t the only way to use the technology. Like all VR headsets, the Apple Vision Pro could support a new way of conducting exposure therapy, including for people with autism or social anxiety. It could help train soldiers, police officers, firefighters and brain surgeons who would otherwise have to practice in dangerous conditions. Investigators could reconstruct three-dimensional crime scenes to present to courtrooms.
Additionally, educators could use VR technology to teach students more immersive lessons. Children could even use headsets to attend school from a remote location. Although headsets already support many of these scenarios, Apple will likely make their use commonplace.
Despite the hype, most VR products have garnered a lukewarm response so far — but all that could change soon. The Apple Vision Pro is unlike anything the world has ever seen and might give people the extra encouragement they need to put on a headset.
Time will tell if Apple’s virtual reality device becomes a hit with the general public. However, at the very least, tech enthusiasts are already chomping at the bit to buy one. In fact, even if this current iteration of Apple’s device doesn’t at first seem to catch on with the general public, if software developers and tech companies begin creating apps, integrations, and use cases for the Apple Vision Pro, the launch will likely be a success for Apple.
With astonishing graphics, high-tech sound capabilities and a whole new type of user interface, this product could change VR forever, but its price point may be prohibitively high to see widespread adoption. But the Apple Vision Pro will certainly prime the market for cheaper, upgraded VR headsets down the road — and in all likelihood, that will be when Apple and VR as a whole will truly become mainstream.