A woman on a plan putting the Apple Vision Pro VR headset on.

The Apple Vision Pro Isn’t Just Pointless—It’s Making Virtual Reality Inaccessible

Have you been watching virtual reality technology from the sidelines and gotten eager to jump in on the fun yourself? Don’t worry, there’s a new product coming to the market in the near future that’s equal parts nonsensical and extraordinarily expensive. Introducing the Apple Vision Pro, a little portable headset that lets you watch Everything Everywhere All at Once on planes.

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It also costs well over three grand.

Unveiled at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the Apple Vision Pro is a “spatial computing” device that allows you to access a wide assortment of office, streaming, and gaming apps by wearing enormous goggles. Users manipulate a virtual screen with their eyes and hands, and the device offers features not unlike an iPad or iPhone.

Want to record a video of your kids hanging out from your perspective? You can do that. You can also watch Apple TV from the comfort of your own living room by, get this, ditching your TV and viewing an enormous virtual 2D screen displayed via your headset’s screen. Goodbye dinky 1080p! You can also use the Apple Vision Pro to surf the web, check your iMessages, and take video calls.

Is Apple’s Vision Pro really a big deal?

The Apple Vision Pro as it could be used in a work setting.
(Screengrab via Apple)

Technically speaking, the Vision Pro is a “mixed reality” device, or a technology that “allows you to see and immerse yourself in the world around you even as you interact with a virtual environment using your own hands,” all within a headset device, according to Intel. The headset mostly displays apps through a virtual overlay that is superimposed over the outside world, so you can, for example, check your email while seamlessly drinking coffee from your kitchen counter.

While the Vision Pro isn’t technically just a VR headset, VR experiences are part of the package with the Vision Pro. Apple says users can drown out their outside surroundings in various apps, so for example, you can use your Vision Pro screen to display an enormous forest lake’s shore while you watch TV, or you can experience an immersive, open blue sky that completely blocks out your bedroom’s walls and ceiling.

According to The Verge, Disney is working on special virtual reality experiences for the Apple Vision Pro as well, such as a Mandalorian scene. Unfortunately, initial reports suggest Apple has no ambitions around VR gaming, so expect the Vision Pro to become more of a wearable iPad than a machine that lets you play Half-Life: Alyx.

Nonetheless, I’m not very excited for the Apple Vision Pro, and I don’t think it’s a net-positive for the augmented, mixed, and virtual reality industry, either. For one, no one really cares about using this technology at work to begin with. Among wider mixed reality and augmented reality devices, Tech Brew reports that just over a quarter of Americans are eager to use AR and MR at work. Most people feel either unsure, unexcited, or apathetic about mixed reality at their jobs.

And when it comes to virtual reality headsets at large, there really isn’t any widespread practical use for VR outside of immersive entertainment. A 2022 report from Security.org revealed that, among U.S. adults who have experienced virtual reality, its most popular application was for gaming: 43 percent of all people who used a VR device played a game with it. Only 19 percent used VR for virtual travel experiences, and just a meager 11 percent used it for watching films and TV shows. The general public barely used their VR devices for work either, with only two percent having some kind of VR work experience attached to the device, the lowest number among all available use categories.

It’s easy to understand why virtual reality isn’t an appealing workplace. Computers, smartphones, and tablets are accessible and portable devices that can be easily picked up and put down on a whim. In comparison, the Vision Pro requires extensive eye and hand movement, and it forces you to either wear its portable battery, or plug the device in outright. Why wear a big pair of goggles when you can just make a call on your iPhone? Even with the fancy Apple tag attached to a mixed reality device, I doubt Apple will overcome virtual reality’s underwhelming nature.

Still, you should be nervous about the Vision Pro

As a former VR reporter, I’d wager that the Vision Pro is just Apple’s Google Glass: a silly, expensive investment that only appeals to the Silicon Valley elite and no one else. But there’s one major part of the Apple Vision Pro puzzle that should upset anyone interested in accessible and affordable technology. The damn thing starts at $3,499.

The mixed, augmented, and virtual reality landscape isn’t exactly the cheapest one to get into, but there are still plenty of consumer-friendly models that won’t cost more than a month’s worth of rent. The Oculus Quest 3, Meta’s upcoming third iteration of its portable VR gaming and entertainment headset, starts at $499.99—which is on par with Valve’s Steam Deck.

A Quest 2 will run you $299.99, making it just as affordable as a Nintendo Switch. On the PC side of things, the gold standard in VR technology is the Valve Index, which will run you $999 for the whole kit—certainly expensive, but less than a third for Apple’s technology. And all three devices offer similar experiences to the Apple Vision Pro, from immersive TV and movie viewing to, in the Quest’s case, portable web browsing.

Apple is essentially disrupting that ecosystem by turning VR and AR into a luxury experience. If the Vision Pro takes off, or if it finally breaks through and convinces people that wearing a computer on your head is a great way to get work done, other hardware designers may try to jack up the price for their own mixed reality and virtual reality headsets. The portable VR headset could go from an expensive but approachable gaming and entertainment device to something that can only really be used by tech engineers with plenty of money to spare.

This could snowball fast. If other companies start agreeing, flashier, more demanding apps could emerge that require powerful and far more expensive virtual and mixed reality headsets. The Quest’s “expensive-but-affordable” price tag and hardware may become an exception as virtual reality and its sister technologies become expensive little toys for the richest workers in America. Or the race to the top could mean the $999 Quest Pro’s high-end specs, while originally designed for a work-ready mixed reality experience, could become the new gold standard for portable VR experiences, replacing the consumer Quest’s relatively accessible price tag.

Once, the Quest line essentially standardized VR expectations, all while offering a cheaper alternative to PC VR headsets’ higher prices. The Vision Pro threatens to reverse that and jack the price back up. All this and more would be terrible for your average American living paycheck to paycheck, who simply wants to try this strange, niche technology without breaking the bank—that is, unless they have thousands of dollars lying around, which most people don’t. Unless they live in Silicon Valley.

(featured image: screengrab via Apple)

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Ana Valens
Ana Valens (she/her) is a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship, and sex workers' rights. Her book "Tumblr Porn" details the rise and fall of Tumblr's LGBTQ-friendly 18+ world, and has been hailed by Autostraddle as "a special little love letter" to queer Tumblr's early history. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her ever-growing tarot collection.