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Apple Announces Vision Pro, its “Spatial Computing” Headset

Posted June 5, 2023 | Apple | AR | augmented reality | Hardware | Mobile | Vision Pro | wearables | Windows

As expected, Apple today announced its first augmented reality (AR) headset, called Vision Pro, with a 3D UI controlled by eyes, hands, and voice. Of course, this is Apple, so it refers to the device as a “Spatial computing” device. But in an unexpected move, Vision Pro won’t ship to customers in 2024.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era for computing,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said. “Just as the Mac introduced us to personal computing, and iPhone introduced us to mobile computing, Apple Vision Pro introduces us to spatial computing. Built upon decades of Apple innovation, Vision Pro is years ahead and unlike anything created before — with a revolutionary new input system and thousands of groundbreaking innovations. It unlocks incredible experiences for our users and exciting new opportunities for our developers.”

Leaving aside the obvious inaccuracies of that historical timeline, Vision Pro is indeed impressive. Like Microsoft’s HoloLens, it blends views of the real world with a digital world by presenting user interface elements as overlays over the view through the headset. Indeed, anyone with HoloLens experience will immediately see the similarities, from the pinch gestures to the eye tracking capabilities to the basic user interfaces. And like HoloLens, it is completely untethered with two hours of uptime, though there is a cable running from the headset to the battery, and you can plug it in for all-day use.

Internally, Vision Pro is based on the Apple Silicon M2 chipset and the new R1 chip that Apple designed to process input from the cameras, sensors, and microphones, and images to the displays without lag. Developers wishing to target this platform can get started with Xcode, SwiftUI, RealityKit, and ARKit, and the Vision Pro also supports Unity and a new 3D-content preparation app called Reality Composer Pro. Microsoft is on board: one Apple demo showed Microsoft Teams, Excel, and Word running in visionOS.

The headset is made of a single piece of laminated glass, similar to ski goggles, and its held onto your head using a flexible and breathable headband with spatial audio straps and a light seal around your face. It features an array of cameras and sensors, including Apple’s first 3D camera, and a pair of micro-OLED displays that deliver more pixels to each eye than a 4K TV. A digital crown–like that on the Apple Watch but bigger–is used to display the visionOS Home view and control various interfaces. There’s also a top button for recording screenshots and videos.

Frankly, we’ve seen this all before. But what sets Vision Pro apart from HoloLens and other AR products is, well, Apple: its unique focus on consumers and hardware acumen could elevate this product in ways that eluded its erstwhile competitors. Of course, its $3500 price tag doesn’t help, and one assumes that Apple will race to cost-reduce this product and introduce smaller versions over time.

You can learn more on the Apple website.

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