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Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (aka WWDC) is typically a software affair. But that wasn’t the case in 2023. Last year, it was in fact hardware that stole the show and more specifically, Apple Vision Pro, the company's long-awaited mixed-reality headset device.
Set to introduce the world to Apple's Vision of Spatial Computing, it's Apple's most ambitious launch in a decade — and it's almost ready for release.
I won’t lie, I was incredibly sceptical about Apple’s take on a virtual reality headset. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge VR fan, but I can also admit when I’m wrong and when it comes to Vision Pro, wrong would be an understatement. There’s no denying it’s got a huge price tag attached to it, but the Vision Pro is arguably the most important device Apple has made since the iPhone stole BlackBerry’s thunder in 2007.
Having been lucky enough to give it a spin in a hands-on demo, there's lots to look forward to when Vision Pro launches. Here are the five things you should be excited about when Vision Pro arrives in February.
Apple made it possible to take Spatial Video with your iPhone when it released iOS 17.2 at the beginning of December. It might seem pretty pointless at the moment but if you have any intention whatsoever of investing in Vision Pro then trust me when I say you should take as many Spatial Videos as your storage will allow.
I had a 30-minute demo of Vision Pro at WWDC 2023 and Spatial Video was nothing short of incredible. I watched a brief video of a child blow out the birthday candles surrounded by their family and no one was more surprised than me when a tear rolled down my cheek as I watched the event on the Vision Pro. The detail was exceptional to the point where I felt like I was right there in the room where it had been recorded.
During the keynote presentation, I assumed Spatial Video would be something you would only be able to capture through the Vision Pro headset itself and I hated that idea. No matter how great the result, I firmly believe you should be in the moment rather than stuck behind a headset to capture a moment. But when I learned Spatial Video wouldn't need to be captured via the Vision Pro, only played back through it, I realised what an exciting prospect that could be for people with loved ones far away. If a child I didn't know could bring me to tears (not a common feat for me, I promise), then watching a Spatial Video of someone I know would probably bleed my eyes dry. Expand that to a lost loved one and there are no words for what Vision Pro can deliver in terms of unique experiences here.
It might seem obvious, but watching movies on the Vision Pro is not something to be underestimated or overlooked. During my demo of the Vision Pro, I watched a short clip of Avatar 2 in 3D and it was exceptional. Whatever you might expect that experience to look like, multiply that by at least 10 and you might get a fraction of the experience of watching movies on Vision Pro. The detail is just so sharp, and that's before considering the immersion of the cinema mode that puts you in the center of the theater.
On that note, Vision Pro introduces a whole new way to watch sport too, and if movies aren't your thing but sports is, Vision Pro has the potential to change the way you watch your favourite teams entirely. My demo put me behind the hoop at a basketball game, as well as behind the goal line at a soccer game and both took place right in the center of the action. It's not just a completely different experience than what you would get watching it on your living room TV, but it's a completely different experience to what you'd get if you were at one of those games too.
Environments mode and panoramas
There are a number of use cases for the Vision Pro, whether it's sending a message on Messages to having a FaceTime call — something I didn't particularly enjoy in my demo. There a lot to be said for some of the more simple experiences however, and that's where Environments mode and Panoramas come into play. Neither have quite the same level of "fun" as Spatial Video or the Immersive Video option (more on that in a minute). But being surrounded by Mount Hood is an impressive experience and one that is good for the soul. It's possible to be fully immersed, allowing you to be surrounded by sheer beauty from every angle of your vision, or you can turn the Digital Crown on the Vision Pro to see your real environment with a slight overlay over the top, allowing you to dip in and out.
I've popped panoramas in this section as they tie together. While Mount Hood was a 360-degree immersion in my demo, Vision Pro allows you to view panoramas better than you could ever imagine. Wherever you took the shot, Vision Pro will transport you back there and you'll likely see it in a completely different light. Along with those Spatial Videos, take as many panoramas as possible.
Apple Immersive Video
Arguably my favourite part of my Vision Pro demo was the Immersive Video experience. The problem with this one is that it is almost impossible to put into words, but when I say you should be excited about this, I mean it with every fibre of my being. The first element of the Immersive Video experience took me several thousand feet into the air onto a tight rope, which let me tell you is not something I would do in real life. It was so realistic however, my legs were so wobbly I wouldn't have been able to stand up from the sofa in the briefing room in Apple Park if I was asked to — and I'm not even scared of heights.
The Immersive Video mode isn't just about exporting you to places you may never go in real life though, it's also about offering up experiences that you may never get in the real world — or that are impossible to experience at all. I moved from a very intimate Alicia Keys concert to being surrounded by sharks, to having a butterfly land on my finger when I stretched it out and coming face-to-face with a dinosaur. I did say it delivered an experience that wasn't possible in the real world! The dinosaur element of my briefing was phenomenal and I don't use that word lightly. The level of detail presented by the Vision Pro for the dinosaur's skin was so incredible, the image remains engrained in my mind over six months since I saw it.
Familiarity and intuitiveness
Though there is plenty more to say about Vision Pro, the familiarity it delivers isn't something that should be overlooked — for such a futuristic piece of tech, it's surprisingly intuitive. Picking up how to interact with it is almost instantaneous and that goes for the gestures too. Frankly, I am disappointed I can't tap my thumb and index finger together and make something happen in real life. This gesture is so natural for Vision Pro however, and it works very well with a great response time.
The only time I noticed it not working is when my hands were too close together and overlapping on my lap. Otherwise, it was flawless in my demo. The interface is so familiar too and exactly what you would expect if you're at all used to iOS or iPadOS, but on a much larger scale. Following setup, you simply look at an icon like Photos or Messages in front of you and Vision Pro will track your eyes and fire it up instantly. It's so simple to navigate and understand non-Apple users won't find it daunting either.
The Apple Vision Pro is one of the most expensive piece of tech set to launch in 2024 but if you do anything this year, try it out when it arrives. It will blow you away, and there's not a doubt in my mind about that.
Apple Vision Pro goes up for pre-order on January 19, and onsale in stores on February 2. It costs $3,499, and will launch initially in the US before going on sale in other international territories at a yet-to-be-determined date.
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Britta is a freelance technology journalist who has been writing about Apple and tech for over a decade. She's covered everything from phones, tablets and wearables to smart home and beauty tech, with everything in between, and she's reviewed every Apple product to launch in the last few years. She has a fashion journalism degree from London College of Fashion and was previously deputy editor of Pocket-lint. You'll never find her without her Apple Watch on, aiming to complete her rings so she can justify the extra bar of chocolate and she loves a good iPhone trick.
What is a hands on review?
'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.