The moment Tim Cook strapped that silver visor over his eyes and drifted into virtual reality (Ahem, sorry Spatial Computing) at the Apple spring product launch, we all sensed this was something radically different.
Sure, VR isn't exactly new. Meta has pushed their Oculus Quest headsets hard, real hard, I mean we're now on version 3 and with an enterprise version (Pro). But when Apple dips their immaculately manicured toes into new water, you know things are about to get wild.
And wild is right. Apple's Vision Pro headset isn't some gamer accessory or Meta Quest competitor. This slick slice of Cupertino design could fundamentally change how we interact with technology on a day-to-day basis.
See, while Meta is trying hard to convince us the metaverse is the future, Apple's approach with Vision Pro is a lot more practical. This isn't about creating some Ready Player One digital world we retreat into. The Vision Pro experience stays connected to your real life, using augmented reality to enhance rather than replace.
Is the headline feature/USP – 'A Floating Retina Display for Your Face'?
Here's where the innovation shines through. Vision Pro doesn't blind you from the world around you. The visor is designed with a kind of built in transparency, providing a clear view of the wearers surroundings. This is AR/MR first, rather than VR first like Meta. This alone makes it feel less isolating than being fully immersed in VR, not that thats a bad thing mind you.
Imagine digital screens hovering anywhere in your room. You could pull up a virtual monitor and kick back watching Apple TV+, or multitask with multiple displays spread around you. It brings the versatility of a multi-screen desktop setup straight to the headset. But at least at launch, Netflix and others are not making a native Vision Pro app.
Even cooler is the ability to have virtual screens fixed in place, so you can walk around with floating panels always in sight. Having a video call hover in the corner of the room as you tidy up is wild. And the immersive spatial audio means video calls will feel more natural than ever.
Apple is essentially giving you a holographic multi-monitor computer on your face. It's like having a MacBook screen following you everywhere.
The Vision in Vision Pro
With a resolution of 2160 x 2160 for each eye, totalling 4320 x 2160 combined resolution and a field of view of between 100/120 degrees, Apple is promising visual fidelity unlike anything we've seen in a headset before.
The 12 camera modules dotted around the product enable sophisticated spatial mapping. Vision Pro doesn't just see the world around you in 360 degrees, it understands what it's seeing.
It's a level of seamless real-virtual blending that opens endless doors for designers and developers. And we all know Apple loves doors opened to developers – it usually means big bucks flooding into the App Store.
Of course, there'll be no shortage of Apple's own software experiences built to flaunt their new toy. iPhone and iPad apps can run directly on Vision Pro. Imagine your favourite games or even pro apps like Photoshop reimagined for an immersive 3D space.
The developers are key.
As stunningly advanced as Vision Pro seems, Apple knows the success will rely on outside developers being on board, but more importantly, will Apple is allow open development with support for third-party controllers?
This will be the big question from serious gamers, no doubt. It would seem like the mysterious ring controller leaked earlier this year seems to have been a red herring and will be for health uses, probably a rival to Aura.
For serious gaming, Apple needs to provide options beyond basic gaze, voice, and pinch controls. This openness to accessories would help attract more power users.
The Front Screen is More Than a Gimmick
Even the exterior screen sets Vision Pro apart from other VR headsets. Apple sees the front screen as key for improving "co-presence" when using the headset around others. The front display allow you to enjoy your virtual world, while still being present with friends and family in the real world.
This co-presence approach aligns with Apple's accessibility-focused values system. It's a philosophy Meta should consider rather than hiding VR users behind blank plastic goggles.
Speaking of Meta...
iOS and Android ?
Yeah, Apple is coming uncomfortably close to stomping Meta's VR dreams into the mud with their first headset offering. Vision Pro feels like a leap so far beyond what Oculus has achieved.
You could argue Meta is the Android of VR, at least in Zuckerberg's eyes thats how he see's it, while Apple takes the role of iOS. But long term, Meta seems more like Nokia – dominating the early smartphone era before Apple stepped in.
The pure innovation powering the Vision Pro experience shows Apple is operating on a different plane, and with worldwide physical retail units to hyper scale demo's and distribution.
What About the Other Mobile Giants?
Apple may dominate the premium end of the market, but Google and Samsung plan to enter virtual reality scene later in 2024 with an upcoming headset with the latest chip from a further collaboration with Qualcomm.
Their budget approach (compared with Apple) could open VR to the Android masses the same way Cardboard tried to do. Im very interested to see how this pans out, Google is notorious for dropping projects like hot potatoes, so will they have the staying power this time around?
The Bottom Line
It's rare that a new technology, or in this case, product, lives up to the hype, but Apple's entering the VR arena with an intensity that could be game-changing. Vision Pro is VR without compromises or gimmicks. A device clearly built for work and play by a company at the peak of its design prowess.
Will Apple's vision shape the next computing revolution?
The question is, how much are you willing to pay to strap that vision to your face?