Attention, everyone: Apple has a new product category.
On Monday, after more than an hour of updates everything else Apple, the company CEO Tim Cook announced Apple’s first-ever augmented reality headset, the Vision Pro.
Vision Pro, announced as a “one more thing” near the end of the event, is a headset with a see-through display and a fully 3D interface controlled with your eyes, hands, and your voice.
The virtual objects even cast shadows onto the real objects in your field of vision.
The idea is to see your apps and experienced mixed up with the physical objects in front of you. And you can control how much of this digital reality seeps into the actual reality by turning the crown on the headset’s side, similar to the crown on the Apple Watch. Tim Cook calls this “spatial computing.”
The Vision Pro is controlled with your eyes, hands, and voice.
Apple places great emphasis on the fact that you’re not isolated from the outside world while wearing Vision Pro. For example, when you’re fully immersed into a virtual experience, and a person comes near you, they’ll be able to see your eyes, and you will be able to see them as they enter your mixed reality.
It’s tough to say how well all this works without trying it out, but Apple placed great emphasis on how seamless these experiences are, as if all your apps, such as video players, FaceTime chats, and photo apps, are just new, fully customizable, virtual parts of your reality when you wear the Vision Pro.
In one example, you can resize the video display in front of you with a simple two-hand gesture, and Apple will automatically dim the lights in the back, create a nice soft glow around the virtual display, and surround you with Spatial Audio. Sounds…well, immersive. Oh, and 3D movies are supported, too.
23 million pixels, for your eyes only.
Apple brought Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, to announce a few things Disney has created for the Vision Pro. These included watching the Mandalorian on a virtual display placed in the virtual world of Star Wars or watching a basketball game in 3D from an isometric perspective. Disney+ will be available for Vision Pro at launch, and Iger said the company will have more announcements “in the coming months.”
To do all this, Apple put a lot of effort into making the Vision Pro lightweight, yet powerful. The display system consists of two micro-OLED displays with a total of 23 million pixels; that’s more pixels, Apple says, than a 4K TV has. Video is rendered in true 4K resolution with wide color and high dynamic range. A number of cameras, both on the inside and outside, and Lidar scanners, are there to track your eye and hand movements and scan the environment. The headset also supports spatial audio, and can scan your room to deliver an immersive audio experience. It’s all wrapped into a fairly elegant aluminum and glass enclosure, with a seemingly comfy fabric strap that keeps the headset on your head. And if you wear glasses, you’ll be happy to know that Apple has partnered with Zeiss to create optical inserts that magnetically attach to the headset’s lenses.
An all-new chip called the R1 is there to make everything appear seamless.
It’s all powered with an Apple M2 chip, running in parallel with an all-new chip called R1 that processes input from the cameras, sensors, and microphones on the device. In simple terms, the M2 takes care of the computing, while the R1 makes sure that everything runs smoothly.
There’s also an all-new eye scanning system called Optic ID, making sure that only you can access the headset. On the other hand, apps cannot “see” what you’re looking at, which is good for privacy.
In terms of battery life, the Vision Pro will last two hours of use with an external battery, connected via a cable on the side. Apple says that this makes the headset lighter on the head, which is true, though it has to be seen how much of a nuisance the cable and the attached battery really are.
Of course, it’s not just Apple that’s creating things for the Vision Pro. The headset will come with support for numerous third-party apps, and Unity games and apps are supported as well.
As predicted, the Vision Pro is not cheap, and it’s not actually coming very soon. It starts at $3,499, and it will be available “early next year.”