Feb 5, 2024 - Economy

A weekend with Apple's Vision Pro

Photo of a woman sitting at a table wearing a pair of Mixed Reality goggles from Apple

Hope wearing the Apple Vision Pro and the battery pack. Photo: Hope King/Axios

The Apple Vision Pro draws some surprisingly strong opinions on social media, in friend circles, and as we found out this morning — in companywide newsroom meetings.

Why it matters: Most of those come from people who've never put one on. What I determined after using it for a weekend — it's an incredible piece of technology that sets a new bar for other reality altering gadgets to beat.

Context: I didn't read or watch any in-depth reviews ahead of trying on the device or writing this story, to avoid being influenced by other people's experiences.

  • As a former tech reporter, I've tested and owned several first-gen VR, AR and MR headsets over the past decade — including Google Glass, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR and Microsoft HoloLens.
  • My immediate impression of each was, generally, 80% awe and delight and 20% disappointment.
  • Typically, I've been disappointed by limited functionality (Google Glass, Samsung Gear VR, HoloLens), a cumbersome setup (Rift, Vive), or image and immersion quality (nearly all of them).

With the Vision Pro, my immediate feelings were 97% awe and delight, 3% disappointment.

  • The setup was easy — no hand controllers or in-room sensors needed. The visuals were far more vivid and crisper than any I've experienced. And the functionality mirrored Apple's other devices, making it intuitive to use.
  • As with any new piece of tech, it took a little practice. Substituting a cursor with my eyes and fingers after decades of moving a mouse and striking keys takes getting used to.

Where I was disappointed was with some of the image graininess when the device displayed my living room in direct sunlight and when I recorded spatial video as the sun was setting.

  • I also disliked the fact that it's hard to share. My partner has the main account and we have to adjust the eye tracking every time we switch.

Zoom out: After using it on and off for two days, I felt like the device could eventually help me multitask: I can see my real-world surroundings while juggling multiple windows without needing multiple monitors.

  • I can escape to cool new places as a form of meditation thanks to the spatial audio setup, and it can allow me to become more creative with video production because of the realistic nature of spatial video.
  • Other devices I've tried in the past, by comparison, felt limited to games and educational apps.

What moved the needle

The spatial video is my game changer.

  • At one point, my partner shot a video of me reaching out to embrace him. In watching it back through the headset, I felt like I was embracing myself — the one behind the camera.
  • At that moment I became emotional thinking about how many old memories I'd want to relive like this — and all the new ones I could in the future.
  • It was the memories scene from Minority Report come to life.

Be smart: This feature also proves where Apple can be most competitive in the AR/MR/VR race: Its hardware-software ecosystem.

  • To capture spatial video you need the headset or an iPhone 15 Pro. To experience the full 3D video and audio, you need the headset.

Coming in hot, but heavy

Apple's preference is to always be the tortoise, rather than the hare, in the electronics industry.

  • The fact that engineers fit a dozen cameras, a LiDAR scanner, half a dozen microphones and more into a headset form factor slightly bigger than an iPhone (even at about 1.5 pounds), is a testament to that strategy, which has reportedly been in the works for more than 10 years.
  • By waiting, Apple has clearly been able to take advantage of more technological advances — ultimately releasing a first-gen device that delivers a near-perfect digitized reality experience.

The other side: VR headsets are not hats, and they're not glasses. Suspended to your face, it feels progressively heavier with each minute. (This was true for other headsets as well.)

  • At first, I was optimistic that multitasking through the device would lessen the desk hunch posture and allow me to sit upright. But over time, I began to be concerned about drooping cheeks — something people pay a lot of money to reverse.
  • Luckily, as someone who doesn't like to use technology more than needed, 15-20 minutes at a time has been and will continue to be plenty for me with VR.

As for the price: Starting at $3,500 before tax, it's not for everyone.

  • Quick take: Ultimately, from an industry standpoint, I don't think it matters how many of these first-gen devices Apple sells right now — because every other consumer electronics company will be chasing the Vision Pro for the kind of oxygen that Apple takes up when it releases a new device.
  • And when more competitors enter the race — to make devices smaller, lighter, cheaper — adoption will grow and through greater adoption, demand will be created.

The bottom line: This product category isn't going away.

  • How Apple and others continue to iterate will be driven by investor patience on cost as well as public adoption.
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