As Apple CEO Tim Cook was wrapping up to unveil the company’s new Vision Pro headset on Monday, I was struck by his very specific choice of words: “Today I’m thrilled to introduce an all-new AR platform to to announce a revolutionary new product.”
Do you catch that? He didn’t say “VR” or “virtual reality,” which might have put the headset and new software more directly opposite Meta’s headsets. Before we knew anything about the Vision Pro – what it looked like, what it could do, what it cost – Cook said Apple was developing a new augmented reality platform, setting us up for a device that would enhance, not obscure, the world around us.
While Apple has made its Vision Pro and visionOS pitch all about augmented reality, the device is definitely a VR headset. Many of the things Apple said it could do are things we’ve seen in VR before. Floating windows for apps. Giant screens for videos. 3D experiences and movies. And like Meta’s range of Quest headsets, the Vision Pro is a computer strapped right in front of your eyes.
Apple’s aversion to VR speaks to the company’s different pitches on how we use these devices. While Meta wants you to live in that computer on your face, Apple wants to put virtual computers in your real world instead:
Apple deliberately avoids other VR tropes by making sure “you’re never isolated from the people around you” with the headset, Apple’s Alan Dye, VP of human interface design, said during the keynote. (You’re not saying it?) The Vision Pro’s EyeSight feature, which allows you to see the eyes of the person wearing a Vision Pro on the outer screen of the device, could be a good way to simulate eye contact . When I’m wearing Meta’s Quest 2, no one in the same room as me can look me in the eye unless I physically remove the headset from my face.
And while Apple lets you go in and out of total immersion with a digital crown on the Vision Pro, the headset’s outer screen can show an animation when a user is fully immersed in something. That can be a useful outside clue to anyone trying to get your attention; again, if I’m wearing the Quest 2, someone nearby might just have to yell at me.
It is also noteworthy that Apple’s press release about the Vision Pro doesn’t say the words “virtual reality,” “VR,” or even “headset”; it labels the device as a “spatial computer.” Of course, some of this is just Apple branding. But it also leaves room for the likely future of this technology that looks nothing like a bulky VR headset: AR glasses.
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised that Apple avoided branding the Vision Pro with virtual reality, especially since Cook has been singing the praises of AR for years. That said, AR just isn’t where it needs to be to actually make anything like those rumored AR glasses, which could be very, very far away.
So, for now, yes, the Vision Pro is mostly just VR. Down the line, Apple almost certainly has plans for something completely different. But for now, to see Apple’s future, you need to put on a VR headset.