Hands-On With The Apple Vision Pro

Hands-On With The Apple Vision Pro

This week at WWDC, Apple announced all the usual operating system updates, alongside an impressive array of new MacBooks. With the number of highly requested features, normally people would be talking about the journaling app, or maybe the new iPhone feature that live transcribes voicemails so you can screen your calls like it’s 1995. But it was the announcement of the Apple Vision Pro, the new augmented reality headset, that has captured everyone’s imagination.

Apple has long been rumoured to have an AR/VR headset in the works, people have been expecting it to be announced at events for years. Apple watchers have been looking forward to it since the original VR boom, and then slightly less so as the metaverse started to sound worse and worse. But, now it’s finally here, and it’s frankly far better (and dystopian) than anyone thought it would be. You can read more about its specs and announcement here.

A limited number of people at WWDC got hands on with the headset at the event in a controlled demo environment, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.

The Apple Vision Pro set up process

Before I was able to get my hands on the actual headset I had to do a scan of my face and ears, similar to setting up FaceID. This was to customise the Spatial Audio experience and probably do something with your avatar, however I wasn’t able to see mine.

After that, I went into a little room where a nice man (who I presume was an optometrist) put my glasses into a little machine that analysed my prescription so he would know which lenses to put into the Vision Pro. That’s right, my bespectacled friends, this is going to be something they do during the Apple Store purchasing process, so you no longer have to psych yourself into touching your eyeball with a contact lens, or wear glasses under your headset. It’s delightful. While I don’t think the lenses I ended up with had the little prism thingy that my regular glasses do, they were actually surprisingly close to my regular glasses. I was impressed.

The actual Apple Vision Pro experience

Someone using the Apple Vision Pro to have a conversation in FaceTime
Image: Apple.

The demo was split into a bunch of different sections showing off everything from productivity, to making me care about 3D movies again (which in 2023 is an impressive feat). I went in thinking it would be kinda cool, but not really different to any of the many VR headsets I’ve reviewed and used over the years.

My first VR experience was in a hotel room at Quake Con 2012, where John Carmack showed me a Vive headset stuck together with duct tape and got me to play Doom in VR. I am used to moments that feel like you’re standing on the edge of some big, exciting wave of VR, only to realise that it’s mostly just a motion sickness simulator. It’s always exciting to try something new and get swept up in the feeling that this is the start of something huge, but you often realise a day later that it wasn’t actually as cool as it seemed under perfect conditions.

However, this felt like I was finally experiencing VR (and AR) in the way companies have been promising for more than a decade. The whole time I was using the Vision Pro, each experience felt more and more like something I’d use every day (except FaceTime, but we’ll get to that).

Wearing it on my head, it was obvious that the headset was deeply influenced by the design language of the Apple Watch, even more than iPhone.

The band was really comfortable on my head, and the battery pack was light and small enough to fit in my pocket. However, the actually face part felt a bit heavy on my cheekbones and pulled at my skin a bit. Over time, it would definitely give you some weird wrinkles, but one of the people at the demo said that there would be more options of face fittings, so it’s likely one of those would have been a better fit for my face.


The demo started with Photos. I opened the app by looking at it and then pinching my fingers where my hand was resting on my leg. There was nothing in my hand, it was barely in the sight line of the cameras under the headset, and yet it worked pretty much every time.

Once in the Photos app, I looked at some photos designed to show off how highly defined textures look on the two 4K screens centimetres from my eyes. Then we looked at panoramic photos. I’ve taken 43 panoramic photos with my phone in the last decade because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and then I never looked at them again because they don’t look great on iPhone (too small). On the Vision Pro, I suddenly wanted to capture every landscape important to me in a panoramic photo because they’re breathtaking.

The ‘Spatial Photos’ feature was one of the most controversial elements of the announcement, because people rightly found it really weird that some guy was wearing a VR headset at his kid’s birthday party. However, while that guy looked like a terrible dad, the actual Spatial Photos and Spatial Videos looked like perfect 3D captures of an important moment you’d want to relive. I truly felt a part of this random child’s birthday party. I cared that this kid got their birthday wish. Imagine if it had been someone I’d known?

Is it a dystopian nightmare? I mean, I don’t love the idea of people wearing these headsets at special family moments, like your kid’s birthday party. But I also can’t work out if you’re more or less in the moment while wearing the headset, or while looking at your phone taking a video. We’re just more used to the phones.

Having the 3D video of the memory is pretty great, and I can’t wait for all those movies where the action hero’s wife dies and he watches the video of her (laughing while saying a fake deep quote, surrounded by swirling white sheets) to be in 3D with a headset. It has exactly that vibe. Watching the video of the “family” of actors at that birthday, I felt like I was in a video game and uncovered a hologram from The Before.

I would prefer it if you could take Spatial Video with a separate device you put on the table and then rewatch in Vision Pro later, because the videos were actually really nice. I wish I had spatial videos of my wedding and fun little days in the park with grandpa, and of my cousins when they were little. I want to be able to relive important moments in this immersive video, but I don’t want to have to wear a headset in those moments and only be represented by eyes on a screen to my family. It’s a weird double-edged sword.

I would bet money that it’s only a matter of time before Apple releases a Spatial camera. Maybe iPhone 16 Pro Max? When that happens, I predict Spatial Videos will become A Thing.


A person using the Apple Vision Pro to do some work on a computer.
Image: Apple.

Opening three different apps and positioning them around the room was easy, though working like that would take a lot of getting used to, and it would only be fairly specific workflows that would benefit from such a set up.

Collaborating with someone in Freeform over FaceTime was very seamless. It was easy to drop new things into a shared document, including big 3D pieces that you could look around. That was neat.

What was less neat was the somewhat creepy, uncanny valley avatar of the person I was talking to in FaceTime. She was also wearing a Vision Pro headset, and so it was an AI approximation of what she would look like, and it was just odd. It might be something people would just need to adjust to, and something the tech would need to improve on, but it was definitely unnerving.

Escaping from work was as easy as picking an environment and just looking around the beach or the cliff. The environments were extremely high definition and just looked so real. When one of the people leading the demo started talking and I turned to look at her, her face started to emerge through the fog, and then when we stopped talking, she faded back into the background. It was the kind of thing you dream of when stuck living in a tiny apartment with your in laws.

The opposite of productivity (entertainment and mindfulness)

As a pallet cleanser from briefly pretending to be productive, the demo then moved onto a one-minute mindfulness session lead by one of the Apple Fitness+ trainers. I have to admit that while I like the idea of mindfulness sessions, I’ve just never gotten into it. But, in the Vision Pro, it clicked for me. The way the big animation moved with my breath, the trainer’s soothing voice, the way the rest of the room disappeared, and I felt very relaxed by the end. It properly took the rest of the world away so I could actually focus on the mindfulness session, rather than seeing dust I hadn’t noticed before, or seeing that the monstera needs more water.

After that, we jumped into a clip of the new Avatar in 3D, and I think this kind of experience is what directors like James Cameron had in mind. Not wearing uncomfortable glasses and staring at a screen to kinda get a 3D effect, but wearing really chunky glasses with built in screens that make you feel like you’re really in that boat with those big blue people. I am not an Avatar fan, at all. I did not understand the appeal. That Vision Pro experience in 3D made me understand the appeal.

It was the Apple Immersive Video demo that really got me, though. It started with a video of Alicia Keys singing at a piano, and it felt like I was hanging out in the studio with her. It felt intimate, special, and better than any of those concert DVDs you buy and claim you’ll watch again (but you never do) in ways that would seem cheesy or silly to me had I not experienced it. While I enjoy Alicia Keys’ music, she’s not my favourite, yet in this experience I felt like a breathless fan. I can’t imagine how much it would have blown my mind as a hardcore bandom teen to have seen a video like that with my favourite bands.

After that was sports. Watching a baseball game from some dirt in the outfield sounds like a thing baseball fans might enjoy? Who knows. Looked cool, but like a weird angle. However, seeing an NBA game from the perspective of the backboard was pretty damn cool.

After that there was an app with dinosaurs which started with a butterfly landing on my finger, and with the realistic 3D graphics and the way the spatial audio was spot on, I swear I actually felt it on my finger. I can’t believe it, if I hadn’t experienced it, I would be mocking myself for saying that, but it genuinely felt real and it was a special moment. It was like the merest flutter of insect feet on my index finger. I was so ready to think the AR effect was stupid, because most AR effects are really stupid, but the combination of the audio and the high definition of the screens tricked by brain into thinking it was real for half a second.

The immersion was somewhat broken when I got up to pat the T-Rex peeking in through the wall, and any time my hand got near their face, their whole head disappeared. But it still looked pretty damn cool, and would absolutely rock the world of a child who loved dinosaurs, not to mention every Millennial who grew up with Jurassic Park.

Watching a movie in the cinema view on a plane would be much better than the experience I’m currently having on this plane, writing this story, where instead of a beautiful Icelandic vista surrounding my trashy TV, I can see someone’s bare feet against their set back screen. The two hours of battery life built into the corded battery isn’t enough to get you from San Francisco to Melbourne, but you can unplug the battery pack and plug it into a normal USB-C charger, or have multiple battery packs, so it would likely make a pretty great travel companion.

Does the Apple Vision Pro give you motion sickness?

Side view of the apple vision pro headset
Image: Apple

I am a delicate princess. A fragile flower, if you will. VR normally makes me feel sick. I enjoy it in small doses, but I almost always need a recovery period after using it. While there were a couple of moments where I got the sense that something was off, I didn’t feel motion sick at all while using the Vision Pro. I walked around, moved my head, and did all kinds of things, and nothing. No sickness.

Instead of needing a break to recover, I wanted to go back in for more. I could have spent hours exploring everything the headset could do.

That lack of sickness is most likely down to the very low latency, the AR focus over VR, and the fact that I didn’t play any fast-paced games (or any games at all). I don’t know how it will be on content that isn’t in such a controlled environment, but I’m feeling really optimistic about it.

The other thing I think that helped, though, is the Spatial Audio.

Audio is what makes the experience and one of the key things that separates it from other headsets. In other headsets I’ve tried, the audio experience seems to be an afterthought, but here it’s baked in. It’s one of the things that really sold the immersion and convinced me the butterfly was landing on my hand. Not having my ears covered meant I felt more like I was there, and the speakers were surprisingly good quality for how small they were. Obviously, I couldn’t test my usual headphone-testing songs, but I can tell you that as an audio snob I was extremely impressed.

Yeah, but is it worth having to mortgage both kidneys to buy an Apple Vision Pro?

Weighing in somewhere between $5,500 and $7,000 in Australia when it comes out is ridiculously expensive and it will be out of reach for most people. But seeing how well it works, and how fancy and good it is, I think the price is justified. But most people don’t need it. This isn’t an essential device. This is a first-generation, high-tech experiment. The Vision Pro is fun and cool, but if you will experience hardship saving for it, it’s a device you can skip until the next generation becomes more affordable.

Remember that the original iPhone cost more than double the second-generation iPhone, and it’s never wise to buy the first gen of these things unless you’re a massive nerd.

Another thing to keep in mind is that TVs are also expensive, and this could easily replace one for someone who lived alone and didn’t like to host movie nights. I’m reviewing a $12,000 TV next week, and it probably won’t make me feel like I’m about to pat a rhino, or as though I’m in the room with Alicia Keys, not matter how pretty it looks.

I don’t know what this headset means for the future of entertainment or VR, or what it says about the idea technology is further isolating us, encouraging us to watch the world through screens in individual experiences with the illusion of togetherness.

That’s something to analyse closer to release, or after we see how people actually use this headset. Will it really be as bleak as dads watching their kids through goggles and kicking a ball to get rid of them, or will just be people using it now like they currently use their computer or TV? I don’t know if this is the next iPhone or the next Newton/Lisa.

What I do know is that the Apple Vision Pro is the most immersive headset I’ve ever used, I came out of the demo feeling like I just experienced something incredible, calculating how long it’ll take me to save up for one, and being awed that it felt like a butterfly actually landed on my finger. I have never been so impressed by a tech demo of a gadget, and I really look forward to seeing what it’s like closer to its release next year.

Alice Clarke travelled to California as a guest of Apple.


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