Apple unveils Vision Pro AR/VR headset

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Apple has announced its much-anticipated mixed reality headset, the Vision Pro, the company’s first major new product category since the Apple Watch back in 2015.

The headset contains cameras and sensors and can immerse a user in virtual reality along with real-world elements of augmented reality. According to Apple the headset will cost $3,500 and be available in 2024.

"This is a day that's been years in the making," said CEO Tim Cook, speaking at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

The headset is being called a ‘spatial computer’ by Apple and has two screens inside with 23mn pixels per eye. The set is connected to a battery pack that can be placed in a user’s pocket and which delivers up to two hours of use.

The device includes a dial on the side which lets the wearer toggle between different levels of immersion and is similar to the digital crown on Apple Watches.

Apple’s custom-designed M2 chip powers the device, as well as a new processor called R1 for making experiences feel realistic.

Using the headset, the wearer will see a field of app icons in front of them. The device is controlled using eye contact and hand gestures to select or scroll and has a virtual keyboard and dictation for typing. A 3D camera allows users to capture 3D images and videos.

The Disney chief executive, Bob Iger, said the company would be building new experiences specifically for the device, demonstrating examples such as Star Wars-themed virtual cinemas, AR replays for sports and a Marvel VR experience to the audience at the conference.

According to industry watchers, the main challenge ahead for Apple is getting people to feel comfortable enough to use the device every day. Current complaints about headsets include overheating, weight or simply being uncomfortable.

Commenting on the launch Leo Gebbie, Principal Analyst, Connected Devices, CCS Insight, said, “The Vision Pro headset is Apple’s boldest new product in years, with some people suggesting this is Tim Cook’s very own ‘iPhone moment’. It sees the company enter a brand-new market, where other companies have struggled to transform futuristic concepts into reality and offer an exciting and innovative product.

“Apple’s headset challenges the established status quo in terms of both hardware and software and sets out a radical new agenda for the segment.

“Even though it won’t launch until early 2024, we expect that the Vision Pro will transform the spatial computing segment, thanks to some of Apple’s design decisions and its innovative visionOS. Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) have been through a period of intense scrutiny and scepticism in recent times but if one company has the star power to revive the segment, it’s Apple.

“Overall, Vision Pro and visionOS have been designed to complement the user experience that Apple users are already familiar with, providing a layer of additional spatial capability without removing backwards compatibility. This is a huge advantage over rivals and builds on Apple’s existing strengths. It also means that visionOS will have a wealth of apps straight out of the box, directly ported from other Apple operating systems.”

According to Gebbie, “There is little in the Vision Pro playbook that is brand new to extended reality (XR). Entertainment, socialising, and productivity are all features that other virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) devices have aimed to make a success of. However, Apple has brought its traditional strengths in optimisation across both hardware and software to build a device and an ecosystem which appears to deliver a transformative user experience.

“The real question is what comes next.”

CCS Insight said that it thought Apple’s entry into the spatial computing market would lift the fortunes of all players, but that the Vision Pro remained some way away from being a mass market offering given its price tag, clearing the way for some rivals.

“Apple has adopted a super-premium design for the Vision Pro which is clearly reflected in the price. You can see strong influences from the Apple Watch with the digital crown and aluminium housing – even the head strap looks similar to a high-end Apple Watch band. It seems to be in a different league to the plasticky headsets from rivals – but it is ten times more expensive,” concluded Gebbie.