Apple has never been one to shy away from pushing the envelope when it comes to making a splash in the consumer technology space, even if they are ever slightly so late to the party. Such is the case with their latest halo product, the aptly named Vision Pro augmented reality (AR) headset, that debuted at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in Cupertino, California.
An open secret that has been whispered among industry experts and insiders for months leading up to its eventual release, the Vision Pro headset represents one of Apple’s most significant hardware launches in over a decade since the debut of the Apple Watch.
Introduced in the same way that harkens back to the original iPhone back in 2007, with company CEO Tim Cook raising just ‘one more thing’ before the end of the conference, the world was given a first look at the Vision Pro augmented reality headset.
Described as a ‘new kind of computer’ that augments reality by blurring the lines between the real and digital worlds, Cook points out that it is the first Apple product you can ‘look through’ as opposed to ‘look at’, representing a transition from computer screens to VR spaces that exist outside the confines of bezels.
While this is by no means the first-ever AR headset to be made commercially available (Google’s failed Google Glass initiative comes to mind), Apple’s attempt at meshing the virtual plane with reality represents a significant effort in propelling the still nascent industry forwards, especially with regards to consumer adoption.
Rather ambitiously, Cook hopes that the Vision Pro headset will serve as a gateway for the mass market into what he dubs as the ‘spatial computing’ generation, in the same vein that the iPhone and Mac computer did for ‘mobile computing’ and ‘personal computing’. And this is everything you need to know about the Vision Pro AR headset.
Everything you need to know about the Apple Vision Pro
‘Ski goggles’ hardware
There’s no getting around it; the new Vision Pro AR headset looks like a fashionable pair of ski goggles. But that’s by no means a bad thing, considering how it reflects Apple’s core design language in a tasteful blend of glass and aluminum.
The curvature of the glass display blends seamlessly into the aluminum alloy chassis, which also features modular components to achieve an ideal fit. A padded textile cushion that surrounds the goggles, branded Light Shield, is available in a number of different sizes and shapes to further enhance comfort and immersion.
And to keep the entire setup flush to a user’s face, a 3D knitted Head Band piece is included, which wraps around the back of the head.
To bring Apple’s vision of blended reality to life, the goggles are equipped with an extremely pixel-dense display system that features 23 million pixels, which the company points out is more than that of a 4K TV for each dedicated eye, condensed into micro OLED panels the size of ‘postage stamps’.
These are coupled with proprietary catadioptric lenses for added clarity, bolstering immersion for the user. As for those who require vision correction, the Vision Pro goggles will also be available with a series of Zeiss-branded Optical Inserts.
Driving the experience is a modified, dual-core iteration of the M2 chip found in the company’s latest Mac and iPad lineup, with performance figures bumped up considerably to support the added computational demand.
The M2 dual-core chip is paired with a new R1 processor, which has been specifically developed for use in an AR headset. Essentially, the M2 chip ensures applications can run, while the R1 chip processes information obtained through the headset’s medley of sensors.
The sensor setup includes a whopping 12 cameras, 5 different sensors, and 6 microphones, all feeding real-world information into the R1 chip, which in turn processes them at a rate of 12 milliseconds — that’s 8 times faster than the human eye can blink.
In layman’s terms, the cohesion of both processors working together helps to prevent motion sickness that can be attributed to a disparity in visual and auditory stimuli from AR or VR use.
As for battery life, you’ll get two hours of juice from an external battery pack. Or for an entire day of use, keep the headset plugged in.
visionOS; the ‘first’ spatial computing operating system
Given the fact that AR is meant to overlay a virtual interface onto the real world, Apple had to develop a brand-new operating system that is adaptable to a three-dimensional environment that they have named visionOS.
Users can interact with visionOS using a combination of voice, sight, and touch, as explained by Apple’s VP of Human Interface, Alan Dye. Of course, great care has been made to ensure that the user interface environment remains familiar to Apple veterans, anchored by design underpinnings from the brand’s macOS and iOS operating systems.
But what is most remarkable is that the interface has been designed with physicality in mind, meaning that the virtual objects appear as though they are actually there, as opposed to an apparition.
This is achieved by a number of graphical tricks, including the ability for the OS elements to respond dynamically to light and shadows in the real world, which helps to give a sense of both scale and distance.
Naturally, apps on visionOS are scalable to fit any space, whether it be in the palm of your hand, or the size of a cinema screen, as some of the media demonstrations indicate.
Taking this a step further, some apps can even envelop you in a completely new world through the use of a feature known as Environments.
Captured volumetrically to more accurately depict a sense of presence when a user occupies each Environment, it is possible, at least in theory, to be transported to another plane altogether by merely turning a small crown.
Here’s another clever trick that visionOS is capable of, for the purposes of blended reality: EyeSight. In essence, the Vision Pro headset displays your eyes on its external screen when you interact with someone in the real world when you’re using it, effectively making the headset ‘transparent’.
Additionally, you can also integrate your existing Apple devices into the augmented reality space created through Vision Pro. In the case of a Mac or Macbook, all you have to do is place it in front of the headset and it will automatically create a new virtual window that syncs with the display of your physical computer.
Better still, you can use your Mac applications side-by-side with your Vision Pro ones without any hiccups. This is enhanced by the integration of both the Apple Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse into the mix, forming a bridge that unifies the entire Apple ecosystem into visionOS.
As for working collaboratively, vision OS aims to enhance Apple’s existing FaceTime experience by introducing ‘Personas’, which are digital representations of other users, during calls.
Entertainment-wise, you can naturally enjoy movies or television shows on a screen size of your own choosing. This also applies to 100 different games that have been adapted for Vision Pro on Apple Arcade, with support for most mainstream gaming controllers.
If you’re looking to be an early adopter, be warned. The prerogative doesn’t come cheap, as the Apple Vision Pro headset will set you back USD $3,466. It is set to launch next year in the United States, with a wider international roll-out due later down the line.
Feature and hero image credits: Apple/YouTube