Apple’s Mixed-Reality Headset, Vision Pro, Is Here

After taking a yearslong wait-and-see approach, Apple is now all in on a new “platform.”
Person wearing the Apple Vision Pro augmented reality headset
Photograph: Apple

Apple finally unveiled its plans for a mixed-reality wearable computer today at WWDC, its annual software conference. 

Photograph: Apple

The headset, named Apple Vision Pro, has been in the works for years, with Apple taking its familiar wait-and-see approach while other giant tech companies have dived headfirst into the still-kludgy AR/VR market. The new platform and headset have massive implications for the rest of the market; once Apple wades into a product category, it often both validates the category and obviates competitors. Recently, a report from Bloomberg suggested that top Apple executives have been at odds over the positioning of and release of this headset. 

None of that tension was apparent on stage today, when Apple chief executive Tim Cook showed off the device in a pretaped demo video. “It’s the first product you look through, and not at,” Cook said. “You can see, hear, and act with digital content just like it’s in your physical space. You’re no longer limited by a display.” 

“You can relive your most important memories in an entirely new way,” Cook added. “Apple Vision Pro will introduce spatial computing” similar to the way the iPhone introduced mobile computing, he said. 

Apple Vision Pro starts at $3,499 and will be available “early next year,” according to Apple.

Vision Pro shows an animation when you're immersed. When you want to interact with others, the display switches to show your eyes.

Photograph: Apple

As previously reported, the Apple headset allows the wearer to see the real or physical world around them, unlike VR headsets that fully envelop the face and limit visibility. There’s a floating “Home View” visible as soon as the wearer straps it on. And scenes in the pretaped video showed a person wearing the headset walking around their home, grabbing a sparkling water from the fridge, indicating that the company expects people will wear this as part of their day-to-day. Or during long flights. 

Content appears on large virtual screens floating in your actual environment.

Photograph: Apple

The headset features 4K displays, infrared cameras, and LED illuminators. Company executives also remarked many times that the field of view isn’t limited, which means it’s likely not using the waveguide lens technology common on other augmented-reality headsets (which refract light and cast virtual objects into the wearer’s eyes.) It’s running on Apple’s M2 chip, as well as a new, mixed-reality-specific R1 chip. 

One of the notable features of the Vision Pro headset is its small dial, which lets wearers alternate between mixed-reality mode—seeing more of the real world—and virtual-reality mode, which offers more immersive face-computing. It also relies on voice input, including Siri, to open and close apps and play media. In the pretaped demo of the new headset, no hand controllers were used. Tiny spatial audio speakers are nestled in the soft headband.

As previously reported, the Vision Pro is equipped with an external battery pack, similar to how other augmented-reality headsets, such as NReal’s glasses and Magic Leap’s headsets, have been designed. This sometimes makes for a clunkier experience overall, but it means the headset is lighter. 

Apple also emphasized the Vision Pro app experience. It’s touting a new technology—to call it new is almost humorous—called Eyesight. When someone is nearby, they’ll suddenly appear in your view, even if you’re using the headset in a more immersive mode. There’s also the option to capture a spatial photo or video from directly within the headset, thanks to a built-in 3D camera. (The same 3D camera will capture your image and create a realistic 3D avatar of you.) 

Photograph: Apple

Some of the apps shown—though not fully demonstrated—were native Apple apps, such as FaceTime. You can also send emails, surf the web, and connect with external accessories for work. And, while Apple has been courting select developers for months, the official launch of Vision Pro means other app makers can start building or tweaking their apps for Apple’s latest platform. Microsoft apps, such as Teams, were mentioned during the video demo. Unity-based games will also be portable to the headset.

“Apple Vision Pro will change the way we communicate and collaborate,” Cook said, just before welcoming Disney CEO Bob Iger on stage. Iger spoke vaguely of the ways the new platform could create new immersive experiences for Disney fans and teed off a demo of the Disney+ app being used in VR. Disney+ will be available at launch, Iger said. 

There are no controllers. Eye tracking, gesture tracking, and voice input control every interaction. You can tap your fingers together to select, and flick your fingers to scroll.

Photograph: Apple

While Apple’s strategy of biding its time before entering a product category has served the company well in the past, its official entry into mixed reality is coming at a curious time. Virtual reality and augmented reality have existed in some form for decades, but so far they have failed to reach mass adoption.

Shipments of VR headsets declined more than 20 percent in 2022, according to research from the International Data Corporation. IDC chalked this up to the limited number of vendors in the market, a challenging macroeconomic environment, and a lack of mass market adoption from consumers.” According to The Wall Street Journal, citing Pitchbook, venture capital investments in VR startups are also down significantly from a few years ago. After $6.3 billion was funneled into VR in 2019, last year’s investments totaled $4.8 billion. (It’s unclear exactly how much of that money is now flowing towards generative AI, the latest wave in the technology hype cycle.) 

Meta has come closest to making a dent in the VR market: The reasonably priced Meta Quest and Quest 2 VR headsets have sold better than most, with a reported 20 million units sold since the product’s launch. And the company just announced the Meta Quest 3, a rush job ahead of Apple’s big announcement. According to IDC, Meta headsets comprise nearly 80 percent of the market. 

Even still, Meta has struggled to sell its much more expensive model, the $1,000 Meta Quest Pro. And it has shoveled billions of dollars into its “metaverse” strategy in order to achieve this modicum of success. The company has said it expects its 2023 losses from Reality Labs, its VR arm, to increase significantly year-over-year. 

But some remain optimistic about the potential for mixed reality to hit the mainstream, driven partly by Apple’s entry into the fray. After revising its outlook for VR-AR shipments for this year due to weak demand in 2022, IDC said that it still expects shipments to grow 14 percent in 2023 and to continue growing in the five years after that. Jitesh Ubrani, a research manager who tracks mobile and consumer devices, said in an analyst note that "Sony's new PSVR2 and Apple's foray into the space will help drive additional volume, while new devices from Meta and Pico, expected towards the end of 2023, will build momentum for VR in 2024.”

Peggy Johnson, the chief executive of AR company Magic Leap, said in an interview with WIRED that Apple’s entry into the market is “absolutely a good thing” for the rest of the industry. “We’ve been largely standing alone for over a decade, working on R&D and trying to get a true augmented-reality system working,” Johnson said. “And there were years before that of technical spending. So it’s great when we see anybody coming into this space, because it helps the whole ecosystem. It’s a big validation.” 

Some app developers are excited by the prospects too. “I think this could be a Tesla Roadster moment for mixed reality,” said Anand Agarawala, cofounder and chief executive of AR/VR company Spatial. “Apple is so good at making hardware, they’re so good at UX, in a way that other folks who have entered the space haven’t been. So I think this could be a real ‘capture the imagination’ kind of year.” 

It might indeed be a “Tesla Roadster” moment, in the sense that when the electric vehicle first became available, some wondered whether it was a “costly toy” or the start of a new era. In the best-case scenario for Apple, both might be true. 

This story has been updated with more details about Apple Vision Pro's price and availability.