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Apple Unveils Augmented Reality Headset at WWDC

At times over the last couple of years, it has seemed that Apple Inc. weren’t even playing catch-up on the lucrative headset market, and with the likes of Meta, Oculus and Pico dominating the market, it seemed that the Cupertino company was not only late to the party, but in danger of missing out completely. But then we started to get rumours of a possible new AR headset from Apple, and these gained momentum over the last eighteen months, gradually firming up on details until we were treated to the official launch at the WWDC event on 5th June. But make no mistake, this is no simple, ‘me-too’ device.

The Apple Vision Pro is a wearable computer that will enable augmented and virtual reality applications. That’s a mix of virtual and augmented realities, but it’s presented in a typical Apple fashion, with compatibility with other Apple products and common apps and services like FaceTime and Disney Plus. It’s built to provide an immersive experience without isolating the user, so it doesn’t have to sacrifice smart interaction or real-world awareness to compete with other devices.

The Apple Vision Pro isn’t just another VR headset to take on the current market crop, but is designed to make the most of augmented reality (AR) too, making it a much more desirable product, but from a design point of view, it is remarkably simple. Apple Vision Pro has a single piece of laminated glass on the front, which is met by a strong aluminium alloy frame. A Light Seal, made from compliant polymer materials, cushions this, and varied sizes and shapes allow it to conform precisely to your face. The back strap is ridged for a comfortable fit over long usage time, and there’s a tightening dial to make sure it stays securely fastened when fitted. In addition, the sturdy head band is ribbed and fits around the back of the user’s head, and there is the facility to swap different sizes and styles of band. Because of the lightweight nature of the design, there is no excess stress placed on the user, even when playing fast-paced games or doing strenuous exercise, making it easy to wear.

The Apple Vision Pro is fully controller-free, and the user can browse rows of app icons in an operating system called visionOS simply by looking at them and selecting them. The user can select and open and can also give voice commands, and Apple says that thousands of familiar iPhone and iPad apps already available will automatically work that way through the system. On top of that, the headset supports Bluetooth accessories, including Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad, and lets the user connect their Mac to use inside the headset. Downward-facing cameras can capture hand movements even if they’re resting low on the body and ordinarily out of the way. If the system works as expected, then the device could well be the next iteration in headset standards, with others playing catch-up.

In a slightly unsettling extra function, the headset will display the users eyeballs and immediate facial area via a technology called EyeSight, and if the user is in full VR mode, a luminous screen will conceal them to simulate no availability. The device uses passthrough video, which allows the user to see the real environment in full colour, but it can also project 3D things into real space, including objects pulled from a message thread.

Technologically, the Apple Vision Pro is pretty impressive too, from the limited information that we have from the company. Apple have not currently provided many technical specifics, however it has been reported that the internal and external displays run at 90Hz, increasing to 96Hz as needed to sync more naturally with 24fps movie playback. They will also enable HDR content, and the headset will be able to decode MP4 and HEVC codecs. The Apple Vision Pro is driven by an Apple Silicon M2 chip, which works in tandem with a new R1 chip. This collaboration means a lot of computational power, with the R1 designed to eliminate system lag and provide a fluid experience no matter what the user is doing. To keep the hardware cold, a cooling system draws air through the bottom of the headset. The Apple Vision Pro is filled with sensors and cameras. The headset has 12 cameras, 5 sensors, and 6 microphones. There are lidar cameras for 3D data capture, as well as motion sensors for head movement, eye tracking, and hand tracking, allowing Vision Pro to accept gestures for navigation. Apple Immersive Video offers 180-degree high-resolution recordings with Spatial Audio, and users can access an exciting lineup of immersive videos that transport them to entirely new places. It appears to be a fantastic package. There is not, however, an internal battery for the device.

In a bid to save weight and make the headset more comfortable for long term use, it either has to be plugged into a mains connector for all-day use, or have an external battery strapped on for up to 2 hours continuous use. Obviously, an external battery and cabling adds the extra weight that Apple were keen to avoid, and how much stress this will put on the user is unknown, but by removing the need to have a specialist battery has no doubt kept development costs down. Not that this has much of an impact on the purchase price of the device, which is a little eye-watering.

The Apple Vision Pro is currently available for $3,499 in the United States, and as a straight currency conversion puts that at £2,817 at the time of writing. However, that doesn’t include the US Sales Tax (much like our VAT), and adding that and doing a straight conversion brings the current price up to a hefty £3,380. Knowing Apple’s pricing policy, that’s likely to be rounded up to something like £3,399. This is simply our pondering so don’t take this as the agreed UK price. However, regardless of what it actually finally breaks down as, we are guessing that it’s going to be a lot of money if your intention is simply to game or browse the Metaverse, but if you are developer or a serious professional user, then it is a relatively small outlay.  

We are hoping to get our hands on a device and give you more solid feedback. Keep checking back for updates on this impressive device.