Apple’s new Vision Pro headset is here (see “Apple Vision Pro Arrives 2 February 2024,” 8 January 2024). As always, Apple seeded some select reviewers with pre-release units. You could easily spend several hours reading and watching them all, and unless you’re highly intrigued by the Vision Pro, that may be more time than you have. Plus, the reviewers largely agreed about most things, so it’s not as though there are many different perspectives. That’s not unexpected—the Vision Pro is so new and so unusual that most people are just trying to explain the basics for now.
To get started, watch the video by Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal. It’s less than 9 minutes long, but she puts the Vision Pro through its paces in a real, if slightly contrived, environment, and her work is always insightful and entertaining.
Once you’ve watched Joanna Stern’s video to get a sense of what the Vision Pro looks like and what a user would see, you have the necessary visual background to read the 7250-word review by John Gruber of Daring Fireball. Gruber’s description and analysis are careful and thoughtful, which is good because they’re backed with only a single still image.
After that, you have a choice. If you’d like to read more, Nilay Patel of The Verge penned a 9000-word review illustrated with numerous still images. He’s the least positive of all the reviewers and the one who most emphasizes that wearing a headset is inherently isolating. And he’s not happy about it messing up his hair. The Verge’s video is impressively produced, but content-wise, it’s essentially Patel reading the text of his article (though you get to see the effect of the Vision Pro on his hair).
YouTuber Marques Brownlee of MKBHD created three videos about the Vision Pro. The first is a 19-minute unboxing video, and while I skimmed some of the early parts, once he’s explaining all the parts and pieces, it’s helpful and informative. He followed that up with another well-done 38-minute video about using the Vision Pro that’s more in-depth than Joanna Stern’s. But the best one is the third video, in which he shares opinions about how well the Vision Pro hardware and software work.
After that, I was honestly a little burned out on learning more about the Vision Pro, but if you want to press on, you can read a 5000-word review from Mark Spoonauer of Tom’s Guide or a 7000-word review from Scott Stein of CNET. For more video coverage and the most enthusiastic review, watch iJustine’s 32-minute video that combines unboxing and usage. Note her warning that the videos of what the reviewer sees look very fast and jumpy but don’t reflect what’s being experienced.
After consuming all these reviews, I came away with some impressions about the Vision Pro:
- It’s an amazing VR headset: All the reviewers were blown away by the level and amount of technology that Apple has shoehorned into the Vision Pro. They say every aspect of the experience is better than what they’ve experienced with other VR headsets. The Vision Pro may be expensive, but it doesn’t feel like Apple is overcharging based on what’s inside.
- It’s more expensive than we thought: The $3499 list price is just the beginning. That model has 256 GB of storage; 512 GB costs $3699 and 1 TB is $3899. Given the size of 3D content, apps, and your Photos library, 256 GB may not be enough. Many will also need the Zeiss optical inserts: $99 for readers or $149 for prescription lenses. Apple’s padded carrying case for travel runs another $199, and AppleCare+—almost certainly essential—costs $499. You could also pay $199 for a backup battery pack and $199 for another light seal cushion if someone else in your household wants to try it. You could spend nearly $5000 on a kitted-out Vision Pro.
- It’s heavy: Everyone commented on the weight. Even though Apple has done a good job with the design and provided two types of head straps, the Vision Pro still puts 650 grams (1.4 pounds) on the front of your face. That’s ergonomically problematic (and would have been worse if Apple had integrated the battery pack), so if you’re buying the Vision Pro, I urge you to increase session time slowly to avoid overloading your neck muscles.
- EyeSight is weird: EyeSight, which displays a digital representation of your eyes on the front of the Vision Pro, is weird and ineffective. The resolution and brightness are much lower than Apple’s marketing suggested. The eyes don’t look natural, and if you have dark skin, like Marques Brownlee, they’re hard to see. This is disappointing since Apple made such a big deal about how EyeSight would help make others feel more comfortable with you when you’re wearing goggles. Perhaps most people will remove the Vision Pro when others are around.
- Personas are deeply unsettling: Personas, which give you a digital avatar from the chest up, are even more disconcerting. They’re highly accurate representations that are still profoundly wrong, which lands them deep in the uncanny valley. Apple says Personas are still in beta, but it’s hard to imagine them improving enough to climb out of the valley.
- Guest mode, but seemingly no multi-user support: Several reviewers briefly mentioned that there’s a Guest mode that lets someone else try out a Vision Pro, and iJustine has a friend test it. From what I can tell, though, it’s designed for demos, not for regular sharing with someone else in your family.
- You can have just one 4K Mac display: Everyone liked displaying a Mac’s screen within the Vision Pro environment, and you can expand it. However, that screen is limited to 2560-by-1440 pixels, and you can only have one. Although you can arrange native Vision Pro and compatible iPad apps next to the virtual Mac screen, it’s not exactly the “infinite canvas” Apple has been promoting.
- A physical keyboard is essential for being productive: If your aim is to get work done, you’ll need a Bluetooth or laptop keyboard. The visionOS virtual keyboard is fine for inputting passwords and other short bits of text, but that’s it.
The most important thing to remember about the Vision Pro is that it’s not for “the rest of us.” It’s not even clear who the Vision Pro is for—there is no killer app yet. Apple is planting seeds for developers, early adopters, and the tech curious who are willing to spend big to be on the bleeding edge. To be sure, Apple also wants to get ahead of Meta and other companies that may want to stake out similar territory. The hope is that the Vision Pro will provide everyone—Apple, developers, and users—with the experience necessary to work toward a point where the technology has evolved sufficiently that it can become a mainstream product at an affordable price.
Or, rather, that’s my analysis of the situation, which matches that of many experienced tech industry watchers. But it’s not what you’ll hear from Apple’s marketing machine, which has to pretend that the Vision Pro is for everyone and solves real-world problems today. Apple can’t say out loud that the initial Vision Pro is a necessary first step toward an imagined future, but when you compare it to everything Tim Cook has said about AR and VR, it’s pretty clear that’s what is happening.
Perhaps the second-generation Vision Pro will be half the weight, the third-generation model will integrate the battery, and the fourth-generation will be actual glasses rather than a VR headset with passthrough video. (And surely we’ll get a “Vision Air” at some point.) The promise is compelling, if dangerously close to science fiction—a Vision Pro could one day supplant every other Apple product. Who needs an iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch, or Apple TV if a pair of glasses (contact lenses would be science fiction) could provide all the same processing, communications, recording, and virtual display options? That may be looking too far into the future, but regardless, I’d prefer Apple’s vision—and implementation—of what comes next to those of any of today’s other tech giants, who would likely bombard you with ads, track your every eye movement, and try to sell you more stuff.