A woman wears Apple new headset, the Vision Pro.
Apple’s Vision Pro straps to your face and offers integration of the digital and physical realms. (Photo: Apple / Design: Tina Tiller)

TechJune 7, 2023

Would you strap this ‘dystopia helmet’ to your face?

A woman wears Apple new headset, the Vision Pro.
Apple’s Vision Pro straps to your face and offers integration of the digital and physical realms. (Photo: Apple / Design: Tina Tiller)

Watch out, Silicon Valley is trying to make wearable face tech cool again.

Its creators say it’s “revolutionary”. Apple reckons its new spatial face computer will blend digital content with the physical world in a way Pokémon Go could only dream of. It will provide an “infinite canvas” for apps, with a 3D interface guided by eyes, hands and voice gestures. Movies will be more immersive than ever.

“It’s like magic,” says the voiceover for a nine-minute commercial that feels like an extended bit from Netflix’s dystopian sci-fi show Black Mirror – which didn’t miss a beat in parodying the commercial to tease its forthcoming new season. 

The Apple Vision Pro, announced during yesterday’s otherwise muted annual Apple keynote address, is a digital mask that straps to your face and promises an immersive computing experience. Expected to cost around US$3,500 (~NZ$5,800) and due for release early next year, the Vision Pro has been years in the making and is the first major hardware release since the Apple Watch in 2015.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is trumpeting the Vision Pro as his major era-defining product, something to rival the iPhone and iPad in scope and scale. It is, Apple says, the most advanced personal electronics device ever built. Cook calls it “the beginning of a new era for computing,” “years ahead” of its competitors and “unlike anything created before”.

That’s not entirely true. Silicon Valley has attempted making wearable face tech cool several times now, and it’s never caught on. Can Apple do the impossible? Here’s everything we know so far…

Apple wants this on your face as much as possible

An Apple Vision Pro user.
Strapped in; the Apple Vision Pro. (Image: Apple)

At close to $6,000, it’s a high price point for sure – but that hasn’t stopped people shelling out $1,000 for a set of Apple Max headphones or paying for a new phone upgrade every year. The Vision Pro isn’t something you only put on when you want to play VR games. Apple wants you to live your life with this thing strapped to your face, and ads show users scrolling the internet, working, Zooming, reading, chatting, cooking, watching movies and organising their photo libraries.

They even show parents working on the Vision Pro while spending time with their kids, and others having real-life conversations with people still wearing the thing. Your eyes will, apparently, fade in and out depending on how immersed you are in the Vision Pro, alerting those around you to how available you are for a convo. You can also control your laptop, phone and watch using the Vision Pro just by looking at them. That takes double-screening to an entirely new and incredibly depressing level.

A parent hangs out with their kids using the Apple Vision Pro.
Quality time? (Screengrab: Apple)

It’s not going to be for everyone

Tim Cook has admitted the price point means the Vision Pro isn’t going to be affordable for most. And many people – myself included  – feel sick when using inferior VR headsets, so they’ll need plenty of convincing before shelling out for this. Analysts are predicting that this could indeed be a game-changing device, but it will be years and probably several further iterations before that really rings true.

There are plenty of fans out there

Many people are already locked into Apple’s ecosystem of products, now ranging from phones, laptops and tablets to headphones, home theatre systems and streaming devices. Those people would be hyped about an Apple fart, so rest assured they are frothing over this one. “Take my money” was typical of the hot takes I saw as the Vision One was announced. While no one’s yet had more than half an hour with this thing, The Verge called it “incredibly impressive” and praised the design, and the potential after a half-hour trial, while YouTuber Marques Brownlee is also a fan, calling it “only something Apple could pull off”.

But there are also lots of haters

Megan Stals, markets analyst at digital brokerage platform Stake, calls the Vision Pro a “beta product that’s not quite ready for the masses”. David Farrier calls it a “dystopia machine” and pointed out that it can predict what we’re going to do on it before we do. The Economist called it “incredible” in one breath, and in the next asked, “What’s it for?” On Twitter, many were wondering if this is the moment we all become the Wall-E people, strapped to our machines with nothing to do and nowhere to go…

An animated person from the film Wall-E.
Strapped in an nowhere to go. (Screengrab: Wall-E)

Yes, we’ve tried to do this before

Remember Google Glass? How about the Microsoft HoloLens? Silicon Valley has a long history of expensive failures when it comes to wearable face tech. Many have tried but it’s just never taken flight. Despite $35 billion of investment, even Facebook’s Meta Quest Pros haven’t become the VR goggles of choice. Recently, a couple of sets were floating around The Spinoff office for several days and even then I couldn’t be bothered giving them a try. Perhaps that’s the problem – I just don’t see the why in all this. I’d rather find reasons to be less connected, not more. I certainly don’t want my phone strapped to my face all day, and that feels like exactly the service Vision Pro is trying to provide.

The pros

The Vision Pro will integrate with all your other Apple products. Watching movies sounds like it will be an incredible experience. VR chats could be much more fun that staring at yet another multi-window Zoom screen.

Anyway, they could have been uglier than this, right?

A woman wears Apple's Vision Pro headset.
Apple’s Vision Pro. (Image: Apple)

The cons

It only has two hours of battery, and it’s wired, so a battery pack will need to sit in your pocket at all times. Sure, it looks modern and sleek, and it’s probably quite comfy. I guess we call got used to people wearing things on their faces during Covid. But do you really want to have a conversation with someone while wearing this? Isn’t eye contact supposed to be an important part of human interaction?

So what does Mark Zuckerberg think about all this?

He hasn’t said anything yet, but this could actually be good for him. His own Meta Quest glasses are far cheaper than Apple’s Vision Pros, so if this expands the market he could end up shifting a few more units. But he’s got bigger problems on his hands. All those billions spent building out the Metaverse appear to have been for nothing, layoffs have been announced and a pivot to AI is on the cards. Silicon Valley, huh?

Keep going!