Apple Vision Pro: A Beautiful, Flawed Bridge To The Future

By Anshel Sag, Patrick Moorhead - March 22, 2024

In this review, I want to give you my first thoughts about the Apple Vision Pro headset after a week of using it for productivity and entertainment. I will also include some of my thoughts about the XR industry as a whole and how the AVP changes things. Direct comparisons to other headsets and a deeper technical assessment will come soon in a longer-term review, possibly in multiple installments.

The Buying Experience, Including In-Store Demo

First and foremost, I want to say I hate whoever came up with the 5 a.m. PST pre-order window for a U.S.-only launch. This also involved scanning my face with the front-facing FaceID camera on my iPhone to get a custom fit for the headset. After that inconvenience, the process of acquiring the headset amounted to going to the Apple Store during the time reserved for me on the Friday morning of the AVP launch. The store seemed to be running a little late and understaffed in the earlier hours, but reinforcements came along to give demos and help people set up their headsets.

The Vision Pro with its protective cover before the Apple Store demo
Anshel Sag

I really like it that Apple Store staff give new owners a demo of the headset before sending them home with it. Before the demo starts, a staff member scans your face (again) to make sure the measurements are correct. The Vision Pro arrives on a platter—like a fine-dining experience—and the employee uses an iPad to walk you through the headset’s capabilities and interfaces. They also offer to test the fit there in the store if you really want to be sure. Once the demo is over, you go to another table where they pack up your headset and bring it to you. In addition to the headset, I bought the $199 travel case—the one I lovingly refer to as the “marshmallow” case. Some people elect to do account setup at the store as well, but I waited until I got home.

The reason these in-store demos matter is that the Vision Pro is an aspirational product that Apple created to be the pinnacle experience for its spatial computing platform. A $3,500 headset isn’t going to sell that many units, and frankly this headset is so complicated that you need the demo to understand and appreciate what Apple is trying to achieve with it. To put it another way, I got a lot out of the demo, and I’ve been covering XR/spatial computing professionally for years. The demo ensures that customers, regardless of their history with XR, can experience the high-end specs of the Vision Pro for the first time in the controlled environment and with the assistance of the well-trained staff of an Apple Store.

Apple Vision Pro Hardware

Apple of course made many intentional design decisions for the Vision Pro. One of the first ones that jumped out at me is that the headset does not have any functional USB ports for data or accessories. Among other things, this means that people using NFC tags or other hardware authentication tokens cannot use them to access their accounts on this device. The only USB port on the AVP is for charging the battery; it does not have any data paths at all and uses a proprietary connector on both ends of the cable connecting it to the battery pack. Using a battery pack is a conscious decision as well, since the headset itself is already quite heavy and it would be difficult to keep the system cool if the battery were inside the headset.

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Having a rear-mounted battery would have been the best solution for this problem because it would separate the battery from the heavy front part of the headset while also acting as a counterweight for it. I believe that Apple likely moved away from this design for aesthetic reasons. Yet the configuration I’m describing is the aftermarket setup I currently have on my Meta Quest 3; it extends the battery life of the device and makes it more comfortable to wear for longer periods. The same configuration has worked well on Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 and HTC Vive’s XR Elite headsets. To be fair, the standard strap for the Vision Pro is extremely comfortable, but not great for long-term wear. It feels like a choice of form over function here, and the dual-loop strap design for longer wear definitely looks and feels like an afterthought.

The Apple Vision Pro’s logic board with R1 and M2 SoCs
iFixit – used with permission

Apple swung for the fences with the displays on this headset, going for the absolute pinnacle of micro-OLED technology with Sony’s displays (3660 x 3200 according to iFixit), delivering a stunning 23 megapixels of resolution to both eyes. Combined, these displays fall somewhere between 4K (8 megapixels) and 8K (32 megapixels). Incredibly, this is slightly more pixels than the Dell UltraSharp 32-inch 6K monitor on my desk, which has 21 million pixels. To drive so many pixels in such a small space (3,386 PPI) using only an M2 SoC, Apple implemented world-class eye tracking developed by SMI, a company it acquired in 2017. This enables foveated rendering, meaning that the headset renders in full resolution only for the small area that the user is focusing on at a given moment. This saves on GPU cycles, which improves thermals and battery life, but it also helps ensure higher and more stable frame rates. Behind these displays sit lenses that have a lot of bloom when bright objects show up on the screen; this feels like a problem that other last-generation headsets have already fixed with newer pancake lenses.

Besides all this, there is an external lenticular display called EyeSight that enables other people to see a digital representation of the user’s eyes when the user is looking at the real world. People have expressed mixed reactions about the usefulness of the EyeSight display, especially since it probably added significant weight to the headset. I believe that it has more to do with Apple’s definition of AR and how it wants to consider the Vision Pro an AR device—even though it is very much a VR device with added mixed-reality passthrough. The Vision Pro is also powered by an array of cameras that enable AR passthrough, hand tracking and other key functions. These are all driven by the custom R1 processor, which Apple designed specifically to achieve 12ms latency. (That’s the bar for a good experience in mixed reality, previously established by Qualcomm in 2016 for a 90 FPS experience.)

iFixit’s exploded-view teardown of the Apple Vision Pro, including battery
iFixit – used with permission

Unfortunately, because of Apple’s design decisions, this headset isn’t easily dockable or chargeable. The case doesn’t even have a good way to charge the headset when it’s stowed inside. There are lots of other opportunities for improvements to the Vision Pro’s ergonomics and ease of use that I frankly would have expected Apple to nail, given the company’s long history of clean, user-friendly design.

Ultimately, the Vision Pro is an extremely high-quality piece of hardware made from premium materials, but it’s too heavy (at more than 600g) and clunky to be something that I would recommend, compared to readily available alternatives such as the Quest 3. I will delve more deeply into weight comparisons in my longer-term review. Yes, the Vision Pro is in a class of its own given its Apple M2 SoC and 16GB of RAM, but Apple also made a huge mistake in shipping a 256GB base model when its own $3,500 M3 MacBook Pro starts at 1TB. Considering all these compromises, I can’t imagine Steve Jobs would’ve been happy with many of the design choices made on the Vision Pro. Also, if you’d like a deeper dive into the hardware of the Vision Pro, I highly recommend you watch iFixit’s teardown and commentary on repairability.

The author setting up the Vision Pro on launch day
Anshel Sag

Apple Vision Pro Setup

Setting up the Vision Pro was mostly very easy. My only frustration arose from needing to log in with my Apple ID on the device itself when it could have been done more easily from my iPhone. There also needs to be better connectivity between the iPhone and the Vision Pro in other areas, certainly for notifications and maybe even for app streaming/mirroring. I also believe that being able to find and download apps from your phone to your headset is absolutely key.

Moving on, the eye-tracking calibration process is also easy, which is important because it is repeated every time a new user puts the headset on, including in guest mode. Speaking of guest mode, I think it’s ridiculous that you can pair only one Apple ID to a $3,500 device. Worse, guest mode resets every time, so you can’t establish durable guest accounts or profiles. Sure, the headset is supposed to be custom fit for the original user, but having someone else (my wife, for instance) use it for short periods shouldn’t make a huge difference. Otherwise, the initial setup was easy.

Initial Apple Vision Pro setup with AirPods, Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad
Anshel Sag

As with any new product, there were various applications and services that I had to log into. I will say that it took me days to get to the point where I was logged into everything because of all the different services that required logins. Apple should make this as easy as they’ve made switching phones. But my biggest gripe with the setup came from the lack of any USB ports with data or NFC capabilities, which kept me from logging into my Google account and syncing my contacts. Now I will have to manually export my contacts from Google and import them into iCloud, which is tedious. Apple does offer a $300 USB-C developer strap that enables MacBook connectivity for developers, but it is unclear whether that might work for token authentication—besides being a ridiculous workaround (and price) to fix my problem.

Apple Vision Pro Interfaces And UX

First, the good news. The eye tracking combined with the pinch gesture (see the image below) is intuitive and works well as an interface. Besides that, the ability to place a window or app virtually anywhere and have it stay anchored there until you move it is basically magic. Indeed, it’s the most rock-solid tracking system that I have encountered in an XR device to date. That said, it’s still far from perfect. For example, there needs to be a way to dock windows alongside each other so that they align; there’s no easy way to “snap” them together like you can with apps in Windows.

The eye tracking, which is the bedrock of many interactions in the Vision Pro, has already changed the way I interact with many apps. It reminds me of the early days of touch-screen PCs. After a week of using the Vision Pro, I actually caught myself trying to look-and-pinch to interact with my smartphone. That said, there has been at least one instance when the eye tracking seemed to drift and needed to be recalibrated. When it’s accurate, the eye tracking is extremely good, but when it’s not accurate, it’s frustrating. The foveated rendering also works great, and for the most part I don’t notice it at all. However, if you move your eyes very quickly to the edge of the screen, you’ll notice a moment’s delay before the resolution increases as the foveated rendering catches up to you.

A person using the look-and-pinch gesture
Anshel Sag

Hand tracking is equally good and works very reliably most of the time, but sometimes it is hard to know whether your hand is in range; perhaps some best practices need to be put in place to ensure a good experience for users. There’s also a major lack of haptic feedback, whether in the headset, in controllers or via a watch or other wearable. I would like to see Apple introduce force feedback and advanced haptics so that every time you pinch to select something you feel a vibration. We know this is already in the works, but it really should’ve been ready at launch. After all, Apple is one of the world leaders in haptics (remember the Taptic Engine that killed the headphone jack?), and the fact that haptics didn’t make it into the headset at launch is disappointing.

Apps On The Apple Vision Pro

There are two classes of apps you can run on the AVP—those built natively for VisionOS and others that are ported from the iPad. Because there is a fairly limited number of the VisionOS apps already built, you will find yourself blending the two types and using both in the same space. The iPad apps are effectively 2-D apps that exist in a window that can be moved around within a 3-D space. Most Microsoft apps for VisionOS—Word, Excel, Outlook etc.—are also effectively the same as an iPad app. In fact, most of this review was written in the Vision Pro with a Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad. I was excited to see apps such as Box supporting USDZ and other 3-D file formats, which enables you to open those files in your personal spatial computing space. WebEx and Zoom both have VisionOS apps that feel like they are natively built for Vision Pro, but also mostly function as 2-D apps.

Multitasking and being (semi-)productive in Vision Pro
Anshel Sag

I’ve been disappointed with Adobe’s performance on the AVP so far, given that it simply ported the iPad version of Lightroom. Lightroom for Mac and Windows has so much substance to it that the iPad version is an extremely limited way of experiencing it. The Adobe Firefly implementation, which is a VisionOS app, is better because it at least feels like it takes advantage of spatial computing.

The Vision Pro does a great job with streaming. There is a plethora of streaming apps including AppleTV+ (of course), Disney+, IMAX, Max and Crunchyroll. There has been a whole online discourse about the lack of a Netflix app, although if you’ve used the Netflix app for Meta’s Quest in the last few years, you’ll know you’re not missing much. Netflix’s CEO has called the AVP a “subscale” platform, which is corporate-speak for “This headset won’t ship anywhere near enough units for us to pay attention to it.” The NBA streaming app allows you to watch five basketball games at once, which is very engaging and feels like a visit to the future; that said, it’s also just one app and requires its own monthly subscription. The Encounter Dinosaurs experience is a great demo app for people who are trying on the headset, but there need to be more apps like it, which will simply require time and investment from the content providers. Overall, I was really impressed with the quality of 3-D content from the many different streaming apps, and I expect we’ll see lots more content coming soon.

The author watching Avatar: The Way of Water while his daughter sleeps
Anshel Sag

For gaming, so far the AVP leans heavily on Apple Arcade. Some of the games are mediocre, but others are quite fun—for example the board game app or Fruit Ninja, which feels like it was truly built for VisionOS. There are a few meditation apps, including a free version of Tripp, but not much in the way of fitness apps. That might be because this headset is too expensive and heavy to wear during exercise, or it could be that Apple is waiting to create a Supernatural competitor. The Personas feature for Facetime and other apps didn’t necessarily hit the mark that I was expecting, but we’ve already seen major improvements in quality since the VisionOS 1.1 beta update rolled out the week after launch. I did think it was cool that I could use Personas in third-party apps—even iPad apps such as Discord and Zoom—and not just Facetime.

Overall, I would give Apple a C when it comes to apps for the headset. On the plus side, I can use the AVP to be productive and I can also get a good amount of entertainment from it. But the reason for the C grade is that app discoverability isn’t great; for example, I didn’t know there was an IMAX app for the Vision Pro until I had used the headset for almost a week. There’s also a complete lack of social apps, which feels like a huge miss when you consider how much social platforms drive usage and stickiness for any kind of mobile or wearable device. Since so many people have criticized VR for being an isolating medium, it seems that having more social apps would help to break that stigma.

I think the overall lack of apps arises from Apple’s secrecy in the buildup to the AVP launch; the company needed to work with developers earlier to get them to have more apps ready for the device at launch. Now we’ll probably see apps trickle out as developers catch up. While I do expect the app situation to improve throughout 2024, the economics of the headset don’t bode well for major developers wanting to invest in a platform that might not even hit 1 million units in its first year. To take one example of a developer with ample resources to invest, Google says that a YouTube app is in development but has given no timeline for it. This could mean we have to wait months or years for a YouTube app—which is another major miss considering the wealth of 3-D content on YouTube.

The Apple Vision Pro’s Target Market

Apple’s target market for the Vision Pro isn’t the usual Apple customer. The Vision Pro is a physical manifestation of what Apple wants spatial computing to be. Apple didn’t cut any corners with this headset, which is why it’s $3,500. I also believe that the $3,500 price tag ensures that Apple puts this first-generation headset into the hands of exactly the people it wants to. You won’t spend $3,500 on a device like this unless you either have money to burn or you’re willing to invest in this headset for professional or emotional reasons.

All that said, I do believe that the Vision Pro is a bridge device that will help build the connection between today’s VR headsets and tomorrow’s AR headsets. It sets the foundation for developers to understand where Apple is going with its spatial computing platform and prepares them for that future. In that sense, the AVP is without a doubt as much a developer device as it is a prosumer device. This headset will continue to improve with time, but I also believe that it was never intended to be a mass-market product.

The front of the Vision Pro as it boots up, edited on Vision Pro
Anshel Sag

My Expectations For The Vision Pro Going Forward

I expect that the Vision Pro will energize the headset market and spark lots of competition—something the industry sorely needs. We’ve already seen some of that increased competitiveness in Mark Zuckerberg’s AVP review on Instagram. I think it will also drive more investment into the XR space and refocus developer energy, whether on VisionOS or other platforms. Apple is likely to make big moves around the Vision Pro at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, whether based on the feedback it is now getting from developers, or simply by taking logical next steps to build the ecosystem. For example, I expect that at some point we’ll see Apple leverage more of its own exclusive content to enhance the value prop of the Vision Pro and VisionOS. I can’t wait to watch 3-D MLS or MLB games via AppleTV+ on the AVP.

Unit numbers will still be extremely low across 2024, but I don’t see that as a problem, first because the base will grow with time and second because, as discussed above, shipping large numbers of the first-gen device was never the goal. My biggest concern will be if Apple doesn’t follow the Vision Pro with a device that has more of an AR focus—and a more accessible price—within a reasonable timeframe I’m talking about the next two or three years, max. After all, Apple’s initial launch for the Vision Pro was supposed to be in 2019 and we didn’t actually get it until 2024.

I know that Apple isn’t the greatest at communicating when the next product will launch, but I do think it’s important that potential customers know that something more affordable and accessible is coming somewhat soon. The reality is that the best applications for Vision Pro probably haven’t even been thought of yet, which is part of why there’s still so much uncertainty among consumers. Spatial computing is a vast medium, and the potential opportunities for it are great—as Apple knows. Watch this (XR) space, because there’s still lots more to come.

Final Thoughts

I believe that Apple did a very good job with the Vision Pro. The device does what it was intended to do, even if I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the design decisions Apple made for it. I do think that specific things such as the battery, the price tag and the level of comfort are going to be dealbreakers for a lot of people, and that’s perfectly valid. In fact, I still find myself recommending the Quest 3 to most people when they ask me about the Vision Pro. It’s just extremely hard to justify spending $3,500 on a headset—even one with gorgeous, state-of-the-art visuals—given that the platform has so much room for improvement in apps, interfaces and usability.

Apple Vision Pro with battery, Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad
Anshel Sag

Even so, the first-gen Vision Pro fits in pretty well with a lot of competitors’ second- or third-gen headsets in terms of features and capabilities, albeit not so much in terms of comfort. And even with so much room for improvement, there are still plenty of things that make this headset unique and exciting. One little piece of advice for people still wanting to buy this headset: I believe that a Magic Keyboard is an absolute must for productivity with the AVP, while the Magic Trackpad is less so. If you plan to enjoy the wealth of 3-D content available for this headset, then I would also recommend a pair of the latest USB-C AirPod Pro earbuds. (The Pro Max earbuds are too large to wear with the AVP.)

It’s also important to note that a lot of the discourse about this headset has been warped by people “using” the Vision Pro in public to gain social media clout, when in reality the first-gen AVP is very much designed as an at-home experience. This headset lacks the visual and positional location awareness and the 5G connectivity—not to mention the comfort—that would be needed to wear it out in the real world on anything like a regular basis. In fact, there are legitimate safety concerns about using it that way, and I am waiting for the horror stories that will come when someone gets their headset ripped off their face in a public place because of their limited field of view combined with the device’s $3,500 price tag. We don’t yet live in the AR world that many people are trying to create with the Vision Pro. This is simply a foundational device to build toward that future—and there is still a long way to go before that world is possible.

Special thanks to iFixit for permission to use two of their images in this article.

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Anshel Sag is Moor Insights & Strategy’s in-house millennial with over 15 years of experience in the IT industry. Anshel has had extensive experience working with consumers and enterprises while interfacing with both B2B and B2C relationships, gaining empathy and understanding of what users really want. Some of his earliest experience goes back as far as his childhood when he started PC gaming at the ripe of old age of 5 while building his first PC at 11 and learning his first programming languages at 13.
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.