At WWDC 2023, selected US outlets were able to try out Apple Vision Pro. We have summarized their first impressions for you.
According to the present media, the demonstrations took place under strictly controlled conditions. The room was evenly lit and air-conditioned. The journalists were guided step by step through the demos (“click this, click that”) without being allowed to experiment with the device. Taking photos and videos was forbidden.
Press in attendance were fitted with corrective lens inserts where necessary and had their faces and ears scanned in 3D for the best possible experience.
Demonstrations focused on the following applications, among others:
- Tea interface: How to navigate and controls apps using a combination of eye and hand tracking and gestures.
- AT face time call showing the digital persona (Apple’s word for “avatar”) of another person wearing Vision Pro.
- AT 3D memory video of a child’s birthday party, pre-recorded by Apple using Vision Pro.
- AT meditation app with 3D models floating in space.
- Immersive 180-degree videosincluding one of a basketball game.
- Avatar 2 we have virtual 3D cinema screen.
- AT mixed reality demo of a dinosaur entering the physical world through a portal in the wall.
Features that weren’t ready to be demonstrated:
- The front-facing video transparency of the user’s eyes, called EyeSight by Apple.
- Capturing of immersive video and photos.
- Controlling the interface via voice.
Now let’s get down to impressions. The sources are listed at the end of the article.
Road to VR
Ben Lang writes that the Vision Pro isn’t for gaming, but it does everything else better than the competition. Apple, he says, is all about taking a subset of what other headsets do and making sure it’s done really well. This includes the interface and the overall user experience.
The eye and hand tracking navigation works so well that after a minute or two you hardly think about how you’re interacting with the headset, you just are, Lang writes.
Lang describes the video passthrough as best-in-class, but not perfect. “We’re still probably two generations away from it truly feeling like there’s nothing separating your eyes from the real world,” Lang writes.
The display resolution is “exceptional” with not even a hint of screendoor effect. There is also great clarity across the lens.
Panels, text, and images are rendered with superb quality, according to Lang. He found the volumetric video capture as immersive as being there. “The thing that’s novel here is that everyday users could potentially shoot these videos on their own, and readily watch, share, and store them for later,” Lang writes.
The mixed reality demo of the dinosaur also impressed Lang, thanks “to a great display, convincing passthrough, seamless tracking, and sharp 3D rendering”.
The executive editor also lists three “goals”. The first is that the Vision Pro is no more ergonomic than other headsets. The device is quite front-heavy, he says, despite the optional top headband. Even the Meta Quest Pro is more comfortable thanks to its balanced design and more rigid headband, says Lang. The second drawback is that the headset comes without a VR controller, which means that Vision Pro won’t support the majority of VR games. Lang’s third caveat is the “insane” price of the device.
Apple primarily wants to set a new quality standard with Vision Pro. The goal for the future is given: The device must become smaller, better and cheaper.
Ian Hamilton describes his hands-on experience as “the best headset demo I’ve ever tried”. According to him, Apple Vision Pro is way ahead of Meta in critical ways.
The video passthrough is so good, he says, that it matters transparent AR optics. “I looked down at my own hands and it felt as if I was looking at them directly. This was a powerful moment, more powerful than any previous ‘first’ I’d experienced in VR,” Hamilton writes.
The navigation via eye and hand tracking felt so good that Hamilton is convinced it will indeed be the mouse click of AR and VR.
Apple didn’t show any artificial locomotion demos. Instead, panoramic photos, 3D movies like Avatar 2, recorded memories and immersive 180-degree videos were shown. The latter would not support 6DoF, but still looked great.
The only thing that disappointed Hamilton were the digital personas in the FaceTime call. “This was a representation of a person I’d feel uncomfortable talking to after a few minutes, and it certainly didn’t feel like they were there with me while constrained within a floating window,” Hamilton writes.
The editor also criticized the weight of the headset, which could become a “a bit straining”. Apple did not comment on the size of the field of view, but Hamilton said it felt at least competitive if not wider than existing headsets.
Apple Vision Pro “is the best riff on some very familiar ideas, but still searching for a purpose”, writes The Verge’s editor-in-chief Nilay Patel.
There’s no getting around the fact that Vision Pro is a VR headset, down to the adjustable head straps which messed up Patel’s hair. Vision Pro, he said, is like a “best possible Meta Quest running something very much like iPadOS”. The headset weighs a little less than a pound.
Patel praises the automatic eye adjustment and finds the displays and video passthrough to be “incredibly impressive”. Text in Safari is easy to read, and the physical environment is crisp and clear. However, the passthrough image is not flawless: From time to time, Patel could see compression or loss of detail.
Apple has clearly solved a bunch of big hardware interaction problems with VR headsets, writes Patel. But it has emphatically not really answered the question of what these things are really for yet. “The main interface is very much a grid of icons, and most of the demos were basically projections of giant screens with very familiar apps on them.”
Patel also expressed concerns about the social factor of the product: Wearing the headset makes you feel oddly lonely, since only you see the content.
In terms of hardware, Apple can clearly outpace all competitors, especially when cost is not an issue, Patel writes. But the most perfect headset demo reel of all time, he says, is still just a headset demo reek. Whether Apple’s famous developer community can create a killer app for the Vision Pro is still up in the air.
Brownlee is impressed with the combination of eye and hand tracking, which allows for an almost magical interaction with the content. He also says the passthrough is better than anything he’s seen before. He can easily imagine spending money on NBA games and movies to watch them with the headset.
However, Brownlee does have a few complaints: The digital personas in FaceTime still feel uncanny, so you don’t feel like you’re talking to a real person.
Brownlee also didn’t like the idea of recording memories with Vision Pro because you wear the camera on your face and people might remember you in that weird way.
Other negative points include the lack of haptics, as Apple does not use VR controllers, and the weight of the device. Although it is well made, he wonders if he could wear it for more than half an hour without it becoming uncomfortable. The short battery life of around two hours and the price are also concerns.
That said, Vision Pro is and will remain unique. Even if a comparable headset were released today, it would not have Apple’s powerful ecosystem integrated.
Vision Pro is extremely impressive, but ultimately not a product for the masses. It is currently a toy for the rich and a muse for developers. We will have to see how it develops in the future, Brownlee says.
For Norman Chan, the headset was not as light as he had hoped, and the fit was not quite right for his face shape.
Passthrough was good, although artifacts and a post-processing smoothing effect were visible.
Chan was a little disappointed with the field of view, which is not as wide as other headsets such as Valve Index, but the image was clear across the lens and the eyebox was quite large.
The device automatically oriented itself in the room, without the need to calibrate or setting up boundaries.
What Chan liked about the interface was that gesture recognition worked even when his hand was resting on his lap.
The display and rendering of digital elements and 3D models are “super sharp”, says Chan. There was no aliasing or dithering at all, he says. The user experience feels more akin to a desktop computer than a mobile chip.
Like many other testers, Chan finds that FaceTime calls have not yet crossed the uncanny valley.
The dinosaur demo impressed the editor. The 3D model was not at the level of a CGI movie, but it was certainly comparable to PC VR graphics.
Because of the high price, Chan isn’t sure who the Apple Vision Pro is aimed at: businesses, developers or just people with the cash to spend. It’s definitely not a mainstream product, he says, and he won’t be getting one for himself.
Further hands-on impressions in audio format
You can find them in the following episodes of the Voices of VR Podcast: