Apple Introduces $3,500 Vision Pro Headset: Will It Eventually Push VR into the Mainstream, or Is It an Expensive Toy?

Apple has unveiled the Vision Pro, an expensive pair of glasses that the company promises will unlock a whole new universe of magical new virtual and augmented reality apps.

The headset will be priced starting at $3,499, available starting early 2024 in the US (with more countries later in the year). Apple announced the years-in-development headset on Monday at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at its headquarters in Cupertino, California.

I believe augmented reality is a profound technology, CEO Tim Cook said, saying Apple’s introduction of Vision Pro will introduce people to new forms of spatial computing, and comparing the product introduction to how iPhone introduced smartphones to millions of people.

Built on decades of Apple innovation, the Vision Pro is years ahead and unlike anything created before with a revolutionary new input system and thousands of groundbreaking innovations, Cook said. Unlock amazing experiences for our users and exciting new opportunities for our developers.

Disney CEO Bob Iger appeared during the Apple Vision Pro launch, saying the revolutionary platform will allow the company to create deeply immersive stories in ways that were previously impossible. Disney’s sizzle reel for Vision Pro showcased various concepts the media company is working on for the device, to bring you real-life magic, Iger said. Disney+ will be available on Vision Pro on day one, he added.

Apples Vision Pro uses eye and hand movements for navigation without external controllers and also uses voice input. (Individual app developers, however, cannot access the user’s exact eye position or other personal information.) Vision Pro uses a feature that Apple calls EyeSight that shows the wearer’s eyes if they are in sleep mode. augmented reality to help users stay in touch with those around them. They; the screen becomes opaque to the outside world if the wearer is in fully immersive VR mode. The headset also features Apple’s first 3D camera, for capturing spatial video and photos, and can serve as your personal cinema with a 100-foot-wide screen with support for Apple TV+, Apple Arcade games (more than 100 titles at launch), and other Apple services.

Vision Pro offers ultra-high resolution, with more pixels to each eye than a 4K TV with 23 million pixels across two displays, and provides a newly developed spatial audio system, according to Apple. Vision Pro will change the way users interact with their favorite apps, capture and relive memories, enjoy great TV shows and movies, and connect with others over FaceTime, the company said.

For all Apple’s razzle-dazzle, the question remains whether the long-awaited VR headset can finally help establish VR as a popular mainstream technology or whether, despite Apple’s heft of investment and stellar global branding, this is essentially a high tech toy at a good price.

The VR tech giants and mixed reality headsets have reportedly been in development for seven years and mark the first entry into a new product category for Apple since it launched the Apple Watch in 2015. The company is projected to sell 900,000 VR headsets in the first year, Bloomberg sued last month.

The headset runs visionOS, an operating system that Apple says was designed from the ground up to support the low-latency requirements of spatial computing. Apple said it has given some developers access to Vision Pro to build apps for the headset, including Microsoft’s Word and Excel and the Sky Guide planetarium app. At launch, Vision Pro will support hundreds of thousands of existing iPhone and iPad apps; in addition, Apple Vision Pro supports the Unity game engine to bring 3D apps developed using Unity to the platform.

The Vision Pro has a unique piece of 3D formed laminated glass, which serves as an optical surface for the cameras and sensors. This is connected to an aluminum alloy frame that gently curves to hug your face while serving as the attachment point for the Light Seal, the section of fabric that touches the wearer’s face. All told, it includes 12 cameras, five sensors and six microphones to ensure that content appears to appear right before users’ eyes, in real time, according to Apple. The device’s new R1 chip processes and reproduces images within 12 milliseconds, eight times faster than the blink of an eye, according to the company. Apple Vision Pro offers up to two hours of continuous use with its built-in battery, according to the company’s tests.

Apple said it is working with Zeiss to provide prescription Zeiss optical inserts (sold separately) for users who need vision correction to ensure vision fidelity and eye tracking accuracy.

Just days before the Apple VR announcement, Meta announced the next generation of their VR headset, the Meta Quest 3, priced at $500 and slated to ship in the fall of 2023.

To date, VR has primarily gained traction in the gaming space. In 2022, sales of VR and AR headsets fell by 21%, from 11.2 million to 8.8 million units, according to market research firm IDC, with Metas Quest holding a market share of around 80%. IDC cited limited vendors in the marketplace, a challenging macroeconomic environment, and a lack of mass consumer adoption for the year-over-year decline.

More announcements during the WWDC 2023 keynote presentation:

  • iOS 17, the next generation of its iPhone operating system (beta July; available Fall 2023). New in iOS 17: Updated apps for Phone (with custom contact posters, live voicemail that provides a real-time transcript), FaceTime (which adds the ability to leave a message), and Messages (which adds search filters, alerts automated check-ins, and live stickers from a user’s photos). It includes a new Journal app that prompts you to write personal entries, which can include photos, music and videos, and a feature called StandBy, which shows the time and other information when you place an iPhone on its side. Additionally, Apple claims that the autocorrect in iOS 17 is more accurate and personalized, and includes sentence-level autocorrect.
  • tvOS 17 (available Fall 2023), which adds support for FaceTime and the ability to locate your Apple TV remote with an iPhone, and features a redesigned control center.
  • iPadOS 17 (available Fall 2023), with interactive widgets on the Home screen, new custom lock screen options, and a version of the Health app designed for iPad.
  • macOS Sonoma (available Fall 2023), an update for Apple Macs, with interactive widgets and the ability to move widgets anywhere on the screen; game mode, which lets you prioritize resources to game apps; new video conferencing effects; improved private browsing and the ability to set up multiple profiles in Safari; and new screensavers. Game designer Hideo Kojima appeared to announce that Death Stranding Directors Cut is coming to Mac later this year (and that his company is working to bring more titles to Apple platforms).
  • A new lineup of Macs including a MacBook Air laptop with a larger 15.3-inch screen (starting at $1,299); and Mac Studio (from $1,999) and Mac Pro (from $6,999) desktops with Apple’s new high-performance M2 Ultra microprocessor.

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