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An Apple VR/AR headset has been rumored for over six years, and it is finally here. At WWDC 2023, the tech giant announced the Vision Pro, a headset that is meant to take mixed reality experiences to the next level, despite it not being as much of a mainstream product as you'd expect.
During the keynote, Apple announced several features that differentiate the Vision Pro headset from the rest of the market including eye and hand tracking, a pocket battery pack, and a new VisionOS operating system powering the unit.
Apple went as far as claiming that the Vision Pro is the "most advanced personal electronic device ever."
By having a tethered battery system, Apple was able to reduce the weight of the Vision Pro headset to make it noticeably lighter than the competition. This, according to Apple, should solve one of the biggest issues with VR headsets: Discomfort after extended use.
The look of the Vision Pro itself resembles ski goggles and its curved front has an external screen that allows the wearer's eyes to be seen when approached by others through a feature called EyeSight.
The front of the headset is made from three-dimensionally formed, laminated glass that connects to a custom aluminum alloy frame. The Light Seal, made of soft textile, and the three-dimensionally knitted HeadBand come in a range of sizes to provide maximum comfort.
The device features two OLED displays that together pack a total of 23 million pixels, more than a 4K TV for each eye, Apple's M2 chip, 12 cameras, five senors, six microphones and the popular voice assistant, Siri. It also features a brand new chip, R1, which runs in parallel with M2 to ensure that there is no lag.
The headset has two individually amplified drivers inside each audio pad to power its Personalized Spatial Audio, which personalizes audio for a user based on their head and geometry.
To switch between AR and VR, the headset will have a crown similar to the one found on the Apple Watch. There is also a knob that will allow users to easily customize the fit, and a button on top of the headset to take photos.
Users will be able to control the headset with eye and hand tracking, a feature that's slowly being adopted by other headsets on the market, as well as voice commands. For example, users will be able to pinch to select and flick to scroll.
Vision Pro runs on a new Apple operating system, VisionOS, which resembles the iPadOS interface, bringing the continuity of Apple's apps and services ecosystem to the headset. This operating system was created to support spatial computing.
What can you do with the headset?
The headset is capable of running popular Apple applications including Books, Camera, Contacts, Facetime, Mail, Maps, Messages, Music, Notes, Photos, Safari, and more in mixed reality -- a blend of both AR and VR.
According to Apple, the apps will feel like they are in your natural space and environment. As a result, moving apps is a similar experience to moving actual items around you.
Immersive video is one of the biggest selling points of the device, allowing users to feel as if they were physically present in the space a video is taking place. For example, with the headset, you can stream a movie and watch it as if it was playing on a giant screen in another environment such as the beach with immersive spatial audio.
The Vision Pro headset will also be compatible with existing third-party content to ease the continuity between your favorite applications and the headset. For example, Disney Plus will be available on the headset from day one.
With its WWDC pitch, Apple hopes that more developers will begin to create apps and services for VisionOS, so that third-party support expands further, much like how it's already done on the App Store.
Still, the Vision Pro will be able to run hundreds of thousands of iPad apps from the App Store as well as top-tier existing gaming titles from third-party developers. Vision Pro will also have its own unique app store for applications designed specifically for the headset.
If you are interested in potentially using the headset for work purposes, you are in luck. The headset will be able to double as a 4K external monitor for a connected Mac by mirroring what's on your Mac onto the AR interface.
In addition, Facetime for Vision Pro will allow for videoconferencing in a collaborative environment which you can use to work with your coworkers on projects at the same time.
The tiles of people on the call will be "life-sized" and each person's audio will be coming from the individual's tile position, allowing for more natural conversation.
People on the call will see the Vision Pro wearer's "digital persona", which uses Apple's advanced machine learning technology to reflect the wearer's face and hand movements in real-time, according to Apple.
To create your persona, the headset scans your face, and then creates a realistic model of you that has depth and moves with you to represent you on Facetime calls.
How much does the Vision Pro cost?
The Vision Pro has a hefty price tag of $3,499, setting its own premium category from the likes of Meta, HTC, and other manufacturers who have played in the sub-$1,000 range.