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Apple Vision Pro is a marvel. but who will buy it?

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I can’t in good conscience tell you whether the Vision Pro is worth the $3,500 — yes, three thousand five hundred United States dollars — it costs. (That price doesn’t include tax or the cost of any add-on accessories, such as the $100 Zeiss lens inserts that are required if you wear prescription glasses or contacts, or the $200 travel case.) I also can’t say if the Vision Pro solves what I call the “six-month problem.” With many VR headsets I’ve tried — and I’ve tried a lot — the initial novelty fades, and minor annoyances, such as blurry graphics or a lack of compelling apps, start to pile up. Six months later, invariably, every headset I test ends up in my closet collecting dust.

First impressions

But I can say two things about my first impressions of the Vision Pro. First, in many ways, the Vision Pro is an impressive product, one that has been many years and billions of dollars in the making. It’s leaps and bounds better than the previous best VR headsets on the market, the Meta Quest series, when it comes to its eye-tracking and gesture-based controls, the quality of its displays and the way it combines immersive virtual experiences with the ability to see the world around you, a feature known as “pass-through.” I was primed for skepticism going into my demo — Apple’s aggressive stage-managing made me wonder what the company was trying to hide — but there were several moments while wearing the Vision Pro when I felt genuine wonder, and a feeling of being present for what could turn out to be a major shift in computing.

The second thing to say about the Vision Pro is that even after trying it, I still have no idea whom or what this thing is supposed to be for. At $3,500, it’s not a device for the masses, or even the mass affluent. It’s a big, honking statement piece — a status symbol for your face. Which isn’t to say the Vision Pro isn’t compelling, or that I didn’t enjoy testing it. It is, and I did. But after my experience, I have a better idea of the kinds of people who might be tempted to buy one now, and who might be better off waiting.

VR newbies

If this is your first foray into VR, it’s really worth getting a Vision Pro demo at an Apple store once they go on sale Friday, or cajoling a friend into letting you use his or hers. (VR headsets, like boats, are often better to borrow than buy.) Early VR headsets were plagued by problems such as blurry displays, headache-inducing motion tracking, cheap controllers and the fact that you couldn’t do anything else while wearing them.

Apple has solved a lot of these problems, starting with the Vision Pro’s displays: two screens roughly the size of postage stamps. They’re amazing: crisp, bright, detailed. When you look at them, you feel like you’re peering out of your eyes, not into a screen. I was also impressed by the Vision Pro’s immersion toggle, which allows you to see more of what’s happening in the room around you by turning a dial on top of the device. Unlike other VR systems, the Vision Pro doesn’t require controllers. To navigate, you just look at an icon. Then you pinch your thumb and a finger together to select it. The learning curve isn’t steep, but I needed a few minutes to get the hang of it.

Wearing the Vision Pro is comfortable-ish. I say “ish” because while it felt fairly light on my head and didn’t give me a headache the way other VR headsets have, I did feel some slight discomfort while my eyes adjusted after putting it on and taking it off. (A colleague who also got a demo compared it to the feeling you get when you leave a dark movie theater on a sunny day.) I don’t know if these are temporary problems, or if I’d acclimate to them. But they weren’t bad enough to ruin the experience.

Office workers

I was less impressed when it came to work-related tasks. Apple has billed the Vision Pro as a desk worker’s dream: a spatial computer that allows you to create your perfect desk setup and take it with you anywhere. Users can open any number of virtual windows, resize and move them around in space, and combine them with a real-world Mac display. I didn’t get to try writing a column or hosting a podcast in the Vision Pro. But I did try some basic web browsing and typing, and found the experience underwhelming.

The pinch-and-drag gesture you use to scroll on a Vision Pro was a pain compared with using a regular mouse or track pad. And typing on the Vision Pro’s virtual keyboard was a slow, clumsy mess. (Just typing into Safari took me the better part of a minute.) Anyone who wants to get real work done on the Vision Pro will most likely need to connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, which kind of defeats the portability part of the pitch.

Movie Buffs and Gamers

Apple is also trying to make the Vision Pro appeal to fans of immersive movies and games. My demo included several movie clips, including a scene from “Super Mario Brothers 3D,” a trailer for “Star Wars” and some Apple-produced clips of various immersive films, including footage from a soccer game and of a scuba diver swimming with sharks. I also saw an interactive video in which a butterfly landed on my finger and a dinosaur appeared to step out of the screen toward me.

Some of these clips were impressive, and the technology needed to render them on such small screens is nothing to sneeze at. (One clip, of a tightrope walker balancing herself while suspended high above a canyon, was so realistic that it triggered my fear of heights.) But I’ve seen similar things on other VR headsets, and the Vision Pro’s movie-watching experience wasn’t superior enough to those models to justify the device’s cost. It doesn’t help that several leading entertainment companies, such as Netflix and YouTube, aren’t offering apps for the Vision Pro, so you’ll have to use Apple TV or another compatible service, like Disney+, if you want to get the fully immersive experience. The novelty factor may wear off, but for now, it’s a real consideration for anyone hoping to fly under the radar while wearing a Vision Pro. Like it or not, Apple has built a device that is too wild to be ignored. — The New York Times by Kevin Roose

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