Cupertino Whether the glasses can actually change the world like the iPhone 15 years ago will only become clear in a few months, especially since the Vision Pro will not be launched on the market until “early 2024” – and initially only in the USA.
But I was able to try out the futuristic glasses for an hour at WWDC. And to anticipate one thing: I was very impressed and actually felt reminded of the iPhone’s premiere in 2007.
Scanned and measured
Before the actual demo, there were two preparations. On the one hand, the head was measured with the help of an app, similar to setting up FaceID to unlock the iPhone: One scan captures my head from the front, a second my ears, so that the glasses themselves and the audio system can be adjusted to my head shape.
As a glasses wearer, I had to have my visual aids analyzed briefly so that the right corrective lenses from Zeiss in the Vision Pro could compensate for my short-sightedness during the demo. This setup took about 15 minutes.
Like any conventional VR glasses, the Apple Vision Pro is opaque because there is a high-resolution screen in front of each eye that you cannot see through.
Operation as in “Minority Report”
However, thanks to the cameras in the glasses, the space I am in is made visible to me. And in contrast to the “passthrough mode” of the Quest 2 from the Facebook company Meta, the image of my surroundings does not appear cloudy, but bright and sharp. If you move your head back and forth quickly, however, motion blur also occurs with the Vision Pro.
The user interface immediately reminds me of the 2002 sci-fi film Minority Report, set in the year 2054. In Steven Spielberg’s thriller, lead actor Tom Cruise often stands in front of virtual holographic screens in the room in order to control the hunt for potential criminals from there.
The film also features truly autonomous cars, which we are still waiting for. But when it comes to computer technology, the glasses from Apple come very close to the vision on the Hollywood strip: by pressing and holding the rotary knob on the right-hand side of the glasses, you can conjure up such virtual screen windows in front of your eyes.
Controlling with eyes and gestures
The starting point is an icon overview of the available apps, similar to the start page of an iPad. Selecting an app is as simple as targeting it with your eyes and launching it with a finger gesture like a mouse click. It didn’t even take half a minute for the controls to be up and running with their mix of pointing at menu items and making selections using finger and hand movements.
In order to experience the excellent quality of the screens directly, it was sufficient to select a panorama picture taken with an iPhone in the photo app. You are practically in the middle of the recording and can look at all the details that you would hardly see on a conventional screen or even on the iPhone display.
The immersion in virtual reality also works so well because the field of vision is hardly restricted and only a narrow black screen edge can be seen. A demo of the TV+ app with the 3D version is more convincing than any 3D film in a cinema or on a 3D TV. Only the sound could be better: there is no rich bass, the room sound is too quiet overall.
Take cover from the rhino
Even more impressive are special 3D films that were produced especially for the Vision Pro. When a little rhino comes running towards you, you intuitively look for cover, although this is only a virtual adventure.
It gets really exciting when the film content becomes interactive. During one demo, a colorful butterfly flew out of a rocky desert and apparently landed on my outstretched hand. I could swear a butterfly actually sat on my thumb for a few seconds.
The series of entertainment applications is interrupted by a FaceTime video conference call. The Apple employee on the opposite side also wears a Vision Pro, but appears in the picture without cyber glasses on his head. This is made possible by a digital 3D image, also called a persona by Apple, which is created by the glasses’ cameras. The image looks natural, also because the facial expressions are realistically simulated.
Browsing and shooting 3D videos
Using the Safari web browser with the Vision Pro is also convincing. Nothing stuttered when scrolling. The writing appeared sharp and was easy to read. With the Vision Pro you can not only consume content, but also take photos and videos. In the demo, a 3D video recording of a child’s birthday party was shown, which could not be created with a conventional camera.
But there are also things that I noticed rather negatively in the hands-on session. At an estimated 500 grams, the glasses are not a featherweight, even if other popular VR glasses such as the Oculus Quest 2 from Meta, the Index from Valve or the Vive Pro 2 from HTC are all a little heavier.
The power supply concept also takes some getting used to: The Vision Pro is operated with an external battery that is attached to a long cable. This battery is also necessary if you want to connect the glasses directly to the power supply, like an intermediate buffer.
Office applications still with question marks
How suitable the Vision Pro will be as a mobile office, I cannot judge after the hands-on session, also because productivity applications were not part of the demo.
One thing is certain: the first generation of the Vision Pro is aimed at technology enthusiasts who will probably put 3500 US dollars (around 3270 euros) on the table without much fuss in order to become users of the new Apple technology from day one to be able to count.
Is there a vision without a pro?
The target group also includes software developers who want to generate new sales with apps for the Vision Pro. For techies on a tighter budget, Apple will release a non-Pro version of the Vision at a lower price point to appeal to a larger audience.
A good six months before its market launch, the Vision Pro already seems quite mature. It will be exciting to see what contributions independent software companies and entertainment studios will make to enrich the entire ecosystem of the Apple Vision Pro.