Apple Vision Pro: The ultimate Apple AR guide


This year’s most anticipated AR headset release, Apple’s long-awaited Vision Pro, is arguably the closest we’ve come yet to proper, Ready Player One-style mixed reality. But, even if you can get your hands on a set, it can only be yours at the eye-watering cost of US$3,499. So, what’s all the fuss about, and is it really worth it?

Let’s take a closer look at Apple’s shiny new VR/AR glasses and try to figure out where they sit in the stuttering evolution of AR/VR headsets.

What is the Apple Vision Pro?    

The Apple Vision Pro is one of the most advanced VR headsets ever built. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to describe it as an MR headset (for Mixed Reality), since it combines elements of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), streaming, gaming and spatial computing, essentially allowing you strap a fully interactive digital overlay onto your face.

Why is everybody getting so excited? Well, for a long time, hardware and computing power limits have handicapped true VR adoption, and it’s hoped that with its M2 processor and new R1 chip, the Apple Vision Pro will finally free humanity from the curse of motion sickness and clunky VR headsets.

Seriously, this thing packs in 8 CPU cores (four for performance, and four for efficiency) and a whopping 10 GPU cores. That’s basically the same specs as a high-end MacBook Air, but on your face. Since ‘VR’ is a bit of a dirty word in the industry right now, Apple’s even come up with a new vernacular they’d like us all to use when referring to the Vision Pro: ‘Spatial Computer’.

What can the Apple Vision Pro do?  

It might be faster to list the things it can’t do, but let’s have a go anyway. With the new Apple Vision Pro, you can:

Stream movies and TV. The Vision Pro is launching with streaming hookups to Disney Plus and Apple TV (naturally), allowing you to watch your favorite shows on a ‘screen’ that feels 100-feet wide.

Browse anything. This is meant to be an immersive, full web experience. That means you can use the Vision Pro to browse websites, jump onto apps, check your photos and listen to music. It synchs smoothly with your iPhone and MacBook too, as you’d expect.

Work smarter. Apple’s pitching the Vision Pro as an end-to-end digital lifestyle solution, which means you can actually work on this thing. Throw up AR reminders and calendars, join remote meetings (both VR or IRL), or manipulate Excel spreadsheets in 4K. 

Change your surrounds. Want to chill out in the Himalayas, or write some emails on the Moon? The custom micro-OLED display offers high-res immersion with 23 million pixels. You can switch back to a 3D video feed of your real surrounds at any time.

To be honest, we’d need a much longer article to dive into all the Vision Pro’s features. The Verge has done a pretty comprehensive wrap-up, if you need more info. The big takeaway from the Vision Pro is that this feels like the first genuine risk, or futuristic creative leap, that Apple has taken since the launch of the iPhone. This thing isn’t iterative; it’s brand new, and that’s truly exciting.

Apple Vision Pro release date    

The Vision pro released in the US on 2 February 2024, but like many Apple releases, the rest of the world will be kept waiting for a while. Bloomberghas reported that the UK, Canada and China will be the first international markets for the Vision Pro, with everyone else expected to get it some time in 2024, if not 2025.

How did we get here?   

With Meta’s very public (and somewhat embarrassing) VR push, Apple is gambling on AR instead. That’s not to say that the Vision Pro isn’t basically a VR headset – it 100% is (although Apple would prefer we use the term ‘Spatial Computer’).

It’s more the fact that what makes the Vision Pro feel new is the creamy way its 3D-rendered AR synchs with your MacBook, your phone, your apps, your real freaking life. It feels like a proper digital overlay: tactile and useful. Not just a gimmick. And that’s an important thing, considering the AR boom we were promised years ago never quite materialised.

The problem over the last five or 10 years, is that, while VR has improved, headsets have become more and more expensive, limiting consumer demand. Goggles have always been heavy, clunky, cumbersome, with short battery life and a hefty dose of motion sickness. In fact, VR headset sales plummeted 24% in 2023. The Vision Pro doesn’t necessarily solve all these problems – it’s crazy expensive, for a start – but in the scheme of AR/VR, it’s basically Silicon Valley’s best crack yet.  

Apple Vision Pro vs other AR headsets

The obvious comparison here is the Meta Quest Pro, which is retailing for a much more pocket-friendly US$1,000-ish (compared to Apple’s US$3,499). Both are powerful MR headsets, both offer similar functionality, but there are a few key differences:

Materials. Apple’s AR glasses are made of magnesium and carbon fiber in an aluminum case. They feel sturdy and premium, as you’d expect at this price. The Meta Quest Pro, on the other hand, feels much more plastic-y.

Controls. The Apple Vision Pro is controlled through your voice, eyes and fingers. Simply look at your AR heads-up display, then touch your thumb and index finger together to navigate the digital world. Meta has instead gone with old-school physical motion controllers.

Display. Apple hasn’t pulled any punches with the Vision Pro’s display. We’re talking better-than-4K resolution in each eye. Over 23 million pixels. There’s even an external display, on the other side of the glass, to let friends and family see your eyes. The Quest Pro doesn’t come close to these specs, with roughly 1920x1080 resolution per eye. About 7 million pixels.

Battery. Apple has packed the shiny new M2 processor into the Vision Pro, as opposed to Meta’s Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2+ (which is based on smartphone processors). You should get more oomph from the M2, but both headsets promise around the same battery life: 1-2 hours. Not a big deal, since you can run them indefinitely while plugged and charging.

Content. With the Vision Pro’s floating screens, and the fact that it’s plugged into the entire iOS ecosystem, you’re probably getting more functionality and flexibility with the Vision Pro. But Apple hasn’t given us much info on its gaming potential yet. Having said that, gamers haven’t been jumping all over the Quest Pro either. 

If Apple has a knack for anything (besides effective marketing), it’s designing intuitive HCI (that’s human-computer interaction). We saw it with the iPod’s original scroll wheel, then zooming and navigating touchpads with our fingers, and even the Apple Watch’s infamous ‘double tap’.

The Vision Pro has risen to the challenge, using your body and voice to navigate complex digital interfaces. Want to open an app? Simply look at it with your eyes. Stream a show? Just ask Siri and – bam – it’s playing. Need to make a screen bigger? Look in the corner, pinch your thumb and index finger, then slowly drag. There’s nothing inside Vision Pro that needs any external controller. It’s at your fingertips – literally.

So, will Vision Pro usher in a new wave of Mixed Reality headsets? Will it change the way we work and browse the web forever? It’s too early to say, and no-one wants to make that promise right now. We’ve been burned on VR/AR before – with Oculus, and Google Glass, and HoloLens, and Sega VR, and all the others.

Apple’s Vision Pro does feel different, though. More of a leap forward. The Verge’s Nilay Patel said it best: the Vision Pro is “the best riff on some very familiar ideas, but [it’s] still searching for a purpose.” So, we say watch this space, so to speak.