If Apple Vision Pro is the answer, what's the question?

Vision Pro Optic ID
(Image credit: Apple)

I love virtual reality. I love it so much that corners of my flat look like a VR graveyard, with assorted VR headsets – a Meta Quest here, a PSVR there – covered in more cobwebs than a Halloween Walmart display. I haven't used them in months, maybe years, because so far, they're not compelling enough. Right now VR is still an answer looking for a question – and I'm worried that with the Vision Pro, Apple has come up with the most expensive and impressive answer yet.

There's never a bad time to remember long-time Apple fan Douglas Adams, or his legendary gag in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy. A hyper-intelligent race of super-beings builds Deep Thought, a supercomputer, to calculate the answer to life, the universe, and everything. After many thousands of years, the calculation is done and the answer provided: it's forty-two.

Deep Thought's creators are baffled. What the hell does that mean? "I think the problem," Deep Thought says, "is that you've never actually known what the question is."

What is the question that Vision Pro is the answer to? 

Vision Pro is a question, not an answer

I need to stress that I think Vision Pro looks incredible, and what it can do is amazing. But I do think that Apple's WWDC event made it look like a finished consumer product when it's nothing of the sort. It's more like a divining rod, a device used to find something important – in this case, a killer app for mixed reality.

I think we're seeing history repeat – or if not repeat, then at least rhyme. We're at the OG iPad launch all over again, where Apple has a new and fantastic bit of tech and hasn't the faintest idea what it's for. 

That sounds a bit unfair, I know, but it's true. When Steve Jobs unveiled the very first iPad, it was clear that it was going to change things. But we didn't know how. Was it a big iPhone? A simpler laptop? A... netbook? Nobody really knew, and many of the reviews at the time suggested that buying one was as much of a leap of faith as a sensible product purchase. 

I bought one and I think that suggestion was accurate: most of my excitement about the iPad was about what it might become rather than what it could actually do at the time, so while I imagined running Logic Pro on iPad it'd be nearly 13 years before reality caught up. 

But the really exciting stuff about the iPad wasn't happening on my sofa. It was happening in the hands of developers who bought the iPad not for what it could do, but for what they wanted to make it do. And I think with the exception of the odd business-lounging luxury-purchasing frequent flyer, that's who the Vision Pro is aimed at, who the Vision Pro will be bought by, and who will ultimately make future generations of Vision headsets essential.

Let the guinea pigs deal with the gremlins

Vision Pro chips R1

(Image credit: Apple)

I'm still excited by the potential of the Vision Pro, albeit as someone with varifocal glasses I fear I might have to wait a while and save a lot of money in order to get a version I can actually use. But looking back on my many Apple purchases, some of them were premature.

I bought the very first iPhone and the very first iPad long before iPhones and iPads were the devices they promised to be. Remember, the original iPhone didn't even have 3G – I spent most of my time outside swearing at how slow its EDGE data connection was – and it didn't have third-party apps either. More recently, I was so quick to buy the first-generation M1 MacBook Pro that I didn't wonder if I'd regret so little integrated memory (I would), the lack of ports (I would), and the inability to drive multiple displays (I did). A few years later and M-series Macs don't have the same limitations.

There's a truism in tech that you should never buy version 1 of a product: let the early adopters encounter the show-stopping bugs, the gremlins, and the lack of features. And I think that's even more true here because I don't think Vision Pro is a version 1.0 product yet. It's a hint, a sketch, a promise of better things to come. 

To channel Deep Thought again, I'm not excited about Vision Pro, but the headset that will come after it. A headset whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate.

That's the one I'll buy.


Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer of the Glaswegian rock band HAVR.