OPINION: The Apple Vision Pro is available for demos in the United States after going on sale on February 2. The experience is compelling, but you’re left wondering whether there’s much beyond what Apple wants to show you in 30 minutes.
I booked to visit my local Apple Store in South Florida at the first opportunity, excited to try on the brand new Vision Pro headset. Here was my experience of how Apple is guiding people through its most important new product category in a generation.
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New high-end store experience
I steeled myself to enter the Apple Store, as I often do as a consumer. Usually, it’s walk in, sign in, and wait interminably for a Genius to approach. I don’t like going there.
This was different. I was signed in, and a second staff member immediately approached, beaming “are you excited?” I felt a bit like Robert Smith of The Cure in that famous red carpet interview. It can be hard to match the excitement of Americans at times.
Anyway, I was whisked to another waiting employee. We got on with the fit, which involved a face scan (similar to setting up Face ID). That sent word to a backstage employee who built the Vision Pro to my measurements. Moments later it was brought out on a fancy platter, exclusive to the store experience, and laid in front of me.
It felt like Apple had upped its game. It was a very personalised, high-end, concierge-like experience. Presumably, because Apple knows the expectations of the free-spending clientele here.
It’s not like bringing in a busted iPhone 8 that’s for sure. The fella who brought out the Vision Pro even had one arm behind his back as he placed it on the table, for heaven’s sake!
You’re asked to gently pick-up the device from the front at the top and under the nose bridge so as not to detach the magnetised components. I felt scared to even touch it and the device felt very fragile and surprisingly lightweight. There’s a nozzle on the elasticated headband to twist to refine the fit. The employee recommended a fit where the headset doesn’t feel as if it’s resting too heavily on the cheekbones.
Vision Pro demo set-up
The experience began with a guide to controlling the Vision Pro. Initially you feel like The Terminator. It’s your own vision, but it has been computerised. However, UI control is incredibly natural and intuitive, way beyond and head mounted experience I’ve encountered.
This is a spatial computer and your eyes are the cursor. The set-up has you look at differently arranged dots on the display in various lighting conditions to configure eye tracking. It was remarkably latency-free and accurate when detecting your point of focus.
A quick pinch with thumb and forefinger (no need to hold the arms out in front, the bottom facing cameras pick up your hands) confirms the selection of the point of your vision.
Once you’ve pinched your fingers, a swipe between left or right or up and down moves between items or up and down a webpage for instance. Zooming in and out requires two pinched hands which you then move towards and away from each other. You can use the Digital Crown to return to the Home Screen and make some selections too.
Soon you’re greeted with the VisonOS home screen, which feels quite familiar. It’s an augmented reality version of your iPhone or iPad’s app grid.
Vision Pro demo experience
The demonstration is focused on media experiences and is designed to wow you. Photos are first. A simple image you’d expect to see in your photo gallery, followed by some panoramic photos which engulf your field of vision. The one of a mountain lake drew a genuine emotional response, which was the first of a few.
Then Apple moved onto its spatial experiences, a photo and a video. First of all, I disagreed with the reviewers who felt the experience was so real that you were intruding on private family moments.
The Spatial Video felt real enough as the pixel density and clarity of the dual-4K displays is absolutely insane and the depth of the image captured by the combination of iPhone 15 Pro cameras dramatically enhanced the realism. However, it wasn’t like it tricked my brain into thinking I was there. It wasn’t reach-out-and-touch-it real, you know?
I did think: “I need to get an iPhone 15 Pro so all my own videos can be captured in this format from now on.” I imagined how powerful this could be if the content featured a lost family member, and how those memories could be re-experienced.
I don’t think it allows you to “re-live” memories, as Apple suggests, but it sure would keep you very familiar with how you experienced those moments when shot from the first person perspective.
The photos app was pushed off to the site – literally, as it can be revisited as a separate desktop from the home screen. A brief Safari demo (nothing too exciting here, barring once again the brilliant clarity of text) gave way to the entertainment experiences in the Apple TV app. I saw a few seconds of the Super Mario Bros. movie in 3D and experienced the theatre-mode where you can even choose where to sit.
Finally, my guide said “I’ll just shut up now” after guiding me to the “Apple Immersive Video” demonstration featuring 180-degree 8K videos. It’s a format Apple is pioneering and it was the most lifelike thing I’ve ever experienced in a head mounted display medium, by an absolute mile.
A singer and band appeared in front of me in what felt like a more profound experience than the original Spatial Video of a birthday party shot on iPhone 15 Pro.
You can look around the room, but it feels like the band is playing directly to you and you’re sat a metre away, just on the other side of the piano The singer was strikingly attractive and it made my heart jump a beat for a second, until my brain clicked that she wasn’t right in front of me, serenading me. It was the first slight sense of being in a different reality.
You spend time with baby rhinos that brought a smile across my face so big I could see a chink of light beneath my nose. There’s an incredible clip of a goal as viewed if you were sat in a prime spot behind the goal, to which I let out an audible “That’s awesome”.
There was a tightrope walker (don’t look down), incredible vistas of landscapes and cityscapes, and finally a bear entering a crystal-clear lake to close the experience. I looked down and expected to see my feet. Proper “wow” stuff.
That was what Apple left me with and that was very smart to do so. Those with less restraint and more cash would have handed it over there and then, after that 30 minutes.
I’d been upfront about the fact that as a technology writer, I’d booked so I could experience this and write about it with some authority moving forward, so the store employee was gracious enough to skip the hard sell.
He did say around a quarter of people he’d demoed for had purchased the device immediately thereafter. He saved my measurements and preferred storage configuration and synced them to my Apple ID, so a purchase would be seamless if I decided to buy one later.
The demonstration was powerful, but I also think I have seen the best of Vision Pro for now and didn’t feel compelled to want to own one, yet. There was nothing that I felt would compel me to use it a lot, even though the experience was, at times, stunning.
There was next to nothing on the productivity tools (because who wants to see Microsoft Teams?) and nothing on gaming.
The examples of Spatial Photos, panoramas, and Spatial Videos have been so meticulously prepared that anything you shoot yourself in less than professional careers might not get near to this.
The Apple Immersive Video stuff is great, and I’d love to watch an entire football game from that front-row perspective. However, you can’t do that right now. It’s not clear when you will be able to. So, this doesn’t feel like an essential purchase right now.
The in-store experience is a great primer, but it ultimately left me feeling like there isn’t enough of a reason to buy this beyond the immense luxury it provides as arguably the greatest personal theatre solution ever created.
Besides, I’d be too worried about breaking it.