Apple Vision Pro-blems I cannot overlook as a VR enthusiast

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Apple Vision Pro-blems I cannot overlook as a VR enthusiast
We used to complain about the mobile tech world going stagnant, but those times seem long gone, as we now have lots of folding phones, wearable display glasses, AI pins, and AR/VR headsets headed to the mainstream…

2024 is exciting.

The Apple Vision Pro arrived, and made the kind of splash only a brand new Apple product can, introducing millions of people to the concept of AR/VR headsets, something that's been on the market for many years now.

But, Apple found a way to make theirs cooler in many ways, besides the obvious, inevitable Apple walled garden integration. The richest company is also careful to call it a spatial computing device and not a VR headset, in order to convince the average user that this is something completely new and fresh.

Unfortunately, I'm not the average user, and I've been using AR/VR headsets for about ten years now. I've been a long-time Meta Quest user, and an Oculus Rift early adopter. Most other headsets that matter (Valve Index, HTC Vive) have too been in my possession at some point.

I can see where the Apple Vision Pro fails to impress, and has a way to go, in order to catch up with the competition. I can also see where the Apple Vision Pro absolutely feels like magic, by doing things no headset before it could.

So let's talk about it. Is the Apple Vision Pro really a worthwhile headset? What's really good about it, and what's not, from the perspective of someone who has a clear frame of reference?

Apple Vision Pro's "immersion" problem

The first thing that came to mind when I put on the Vision Pro was: "Wow, that's a small FOV."

If you're coming from a Meta Quest 3 (which only costs $499, mind you), the Apple Vision Pro's FOV is almost claustrophobic.

FOV stands for field of view, and in the world of AR/VR headsets it means exactly what it sounds like – how much can you see through the headset.

A small FOV means you don't get much peripheral vision; it's like you're looking at things through ski goggles with lots of padding around the lenses.

A larger FOV means you get more peripheral vision, a wider view of both the real and virtual worlds, which greatly helps with immersion.

And yeah, the Apple Vision Pro really fails to impress in the FOV department; it feels pretty archaic, considering even budget headsets have noticeably larger FOV nowadays. It's a weird compromise, which I can only imagine is due to processor limitations, and not so much design ones.

Because the Apple Vision Pro already struggles to generate a crystal clear, full image, and resorts to visibly lowering the fidelity of everything in your peripheral, I imagine a larger FOV for it to render would be even more taxing.

Perhaps when Apple's AR/VR-centric R1 chip gets newer, faster successors, we could see a larger FOV on future Apple Vision headsets. But right now, it's kind of a letdown, if you're used to higher FOVs, which I imagine most modern VR users are.

The passthrough balancing act – it's much sharper and less noisy than usual, but also dimmer, less vibrant, and almost depressing-looking

Passthrough is a key feature of most modern AR/VR headsets, that lets you see "through" the headset, by utilizing its cameras. You get a different camera feed for each of your eyes, so you get a convincing 3D view of the world, as if you're actually seeing through the headset.

As you can imagine, the quality of passthrough depends on many factors, most notably those cameras' quality, plus the processor's capability to deliver that feed to your eyes with minimal latency, yet also in the best quality possible… It's not an easy task, nor a cheap one to produce.

However, the $499 Meta Quest 3 has been pretty excellent at it. Yes, its passthrough can be grainy, can exhibit occasional distortions around moving objects, and yes, it's not the sharpest.

But all that fades away, thanks to it also being quite bright and lively, and with minimal latency. You can easily get up and walk around your house, or even use your phone – small text is legible. It's plenty clear enough, for a $499 headset.

Now, the $3,500 Apple Vision Pro. Its passthrough is notably higher-resolution, and thus – sharper. There are no distortions, and it's far less grainy. Even more impressive, the Vision Pro has the kind of magical tech that can detect and show your entire arms inside of virtual spaces. This might not sound like a big deal, but it absolutely is; it's the kind of intelligent computing that I never imagined I'd see on a consumer product so soon.

However, I do have one gripe with the Vision Pro's passthrough, and that's how dim and dull the world looks through that headset's cameras. Pair that depressing vibe with the claustrophobic FOV I mentioned earlier, and it's not a headset I actually wish to use around my apartment, let alone outside in public, as some YouTubers have attempted.

This should be something Apple can fix in a software update – just give the Apple Vision Pro's passthrough more lively and realistic colors, and an overall brighter feed so you can navigate easier.

In any case, if I have to live my life seeing through a camera feed, I'd rather look at the world through the Quest 3, than the Apple Vision Pro. While the latter's virtual interface is gorgeous, polished, and far more appealing, its camera feed into the real world – not so much.

Yay or nay on that external battery? Well, surprisingly…

Almost every other headset has a built-in battery, so how come the Apple Vision Pro needs an external one? Why is it not inside the headset, as is the norm, but instead we get an inconvenient cable always dangling down the side of our face, connected to an external battery?

Well, it's pretty obvious that the Apple Vision Pro is very over-engineered. It's already too heavy, due to its premium build materials, lots of sensors, and (in my opinion) a pointless lenticular display on the outside. So fitting a battery among all that was clearly not possible.

Was all this over-engineering for the sake of making a grand first impression; so the Vision Pro is strikingly different from other AR/VR headsets?

More importantly – will future models, especially ones without the "Pro" moniker, be more traditional-looking, and perhaps capable of fitting an internal battery? We'll find out, and likely soon.

But for now, we have to deal with a pretty large and thick, dangling external battery.

And I'm actually okay with it.

In fact, I wish other headsets did this to shed some weight off the user's face, but simultaneously I can't argue against the convenience of having an all-in-one device.

While I'm not super fond of having this external battery, and always moving it around the couch, or needing yet another pocket to fit it in, I'm not totally against the idea. I just wish the headset itself was at least lighter than most, because of it, but alas.

The magical things about Apple Vision Pro: eye tracking, arm, hand and body tracking, multitasking, and the Apple ecosystem

There are a few other gripes I have with the Vision Pro, but that's not the point – I wanted to share my biggest ones that actually matter to me.

But there's a lot that impresses about the Apple Vision Pro, actually making it very unique, and far better than any AR/VR headset we've reviewed so far.

As mentioned earlier, the fact that it's powerful and intelligent enough to show the user's full arms even in virtual environments, in pure magic. That takes a lot of processing power – to perfectly clip out parts of your body, from the real-world environment, and only show those in a virtual environment. No other headset we've reviewed is capable of that. And it works really well; it's almost pixel-perfect.

Eye tracking (after you train the headset to your gaze) is also an infinitely more convenient way to control things, than reaching for controllers, or using your hands as remotes, which is what the Quest 3 attempts.

What's probably the Vision Pro's biggest selling point – its integration with the Apple ecosystem – is also very promising. You can easily use the Vision Pro as an external screen for your MacBook, or even do some work on it alone. You get access to your mails and messages as you would on your iPad or iPhone, you can open multiple Safari windows… And FaceTime in particular – wow!

FaceTime video calls are perhaps the Vision Pro's most easily recognizable killer feature – if you call another Vision Pro user, a very convincing representation of their upper body appears in front of you.

Upper body, arms, hands, face, gaze, little eye and mouth movements – all of that is reproduced by their virtual avatar with impressive accuracy and speed. And with Apple's spatial audio, it's like you're actually standing next to each other, having a normal conversation; eye-contact and all.

Extremely impressive, that this one headset has enough sensors and computing capability to scan so much of its user's body, and generate such a realistic digital avatar out of it.

And this is the closest look at our potential future of communication. Anything else we've seen is far off, most notably Meta's goofy, cartoonish and uncanny 3D avatars. Although, to be fair, Meta can, and probably will also improve in that area soon enough.

But indeed, the Apple Vision Pro is our best look at the future so far. Other headsets have been around for decades, and can do some things better, and might have significantly more focused use cases (most commonly – gaming), but it seems that Apple tried to show us further into the future with the Vision Pro, and it works.

But we've not reached that future just yet, and the Vision Pro isn't exactly ready for the average consumer. It's not ready to deliver on all of the promises it's trying to sell.

So why, oh why, should you buy it right now? Well, you shouldn't; wait for the next generations

The biggest reason I don't believe you should be getting the Apple Vision Pro just yet, is the price.

$3,500 is a significant amount to pay for what still feels like a proof of concept, and will only get much better with future generations.

Think buying the first Galaxy Fold vs. buying the current Galaxy Z Fold 5. It's night and day.

To be fair, the Vision Pro is actually outstandingly polished for a first-gen product, and using it is a joy, but it's not $3,500 worth of joy.

The archaic FOV, the lack of killer apps, or at the very least iPad apps I tend to use for work, makes it a glorified AR/VR FaceTime and Safari machine for most.

I tend to use it for a few minutes, then reach for my Quest 3, because it actually has a library full of games, it too can do AR and multi-tab web browsing, and most importantly to me – it can connect to my PC for PCVR gaming.

While the Apple Vision Pro has superb potential as being the future of productivity, it's not there yet. The technology itself, in general, isn't there yet.

And since it's missing a YouTube app, a Netflix app, or any compelling dedicated games, it doesn't really hold a candle to a Quest 3 as the best AR/VR entertainment device either. To be fair, you can access YouTube and Netflix via the Safari browser, but it's not the same.

In any case, give it time. A cheaper Apple Vision is expected, and future Apple Vision Pros will likely improve on both the hardware and software side of things, enough to actually make it worth the thousands of dollars, without any buyers remorse.

For now, I'll happily stick with my $499 Meta Quest 3. There's far less buyers remorse in spending $500, than $3,500.

In conclusion, while the Vision Pro is fun to play around with for a while, it's fun to showcase for friends and family, and it's definitely a promising product that will likely blossom into the best and most popular AR/VR headset ever, it needs more time.

As for right now, unless you've never used an AR/VR headset before, you might feel a bit underwhelmed, about as much as impressed. I know I did.
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