Apple Unveils AR Headset

CEO Tim Cook announced Vision Pro platform during WWDC keynote

Apple's Vision Pro headset is powered by an external battery which allows two hours of use on a single charge. Photo by Apple.

By Josh Levin
Published June 6, 2023 | Updated February 18, 2024 at 10:28 am

“We do have one more thing,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the end of the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote yesterday.

The “thing” was Apple’s new $3500 augmented reality headset, dubbed Apple Vision Pro.

“Vision Pro is a new kind of computer which augments reality by seamlessly blending the real world with the digital world,” Cook said. “It’s the first Apple product you look through and not at.” Apple plans to release the headset early next year.

The headset is powered by Apple’s custom M2 SoC, which can also be found in iPads and Macs, alongside a new R1 sensor processing chip. “R1 streams new images to the displays within 12 milliseconds — 8x faster than the blink of an eye,” Apple stated in a press release.

Apple says the device’s development required breakthroughs in display technology. “It starts with a Micro-OLED Apple Silicon backplane that fits 64 pixels in the space of a single iPhone pixel,” said Mike Rockwell, VP of the technology development group at Apple. “They’re just seven and a half microns wide. Combined, Vision Pro has 23 million pixels across two panels that are each just the size of a postage stamp.”

“Vision Pro supports all day use when plugged in, and up to two hours of use with the external high-performance battery,” said VP of Industrial Design Richart Howarth. “A separate battery means that you don’t wear that weight on your head.” The battery connects via a woven cable with a magnetic connector.

Unlike competing products like the Meta Quest lineup, Apple’s headset does not have controllers. “You control Vision Pro using the most natural and intuitive tools: your eyes, hands and voice,” Cook said.

The headset also has a Digital Crown, similar to the one found on Apple Watch, which is used to change the level of immersion from complete passthrough to a completely digital environment.

Unlike previous AR technologies like Microsoft HoloLens, the user can’t see directly through the headset. Instead, the headset works like a typical virtual reality headset, using cameras to show the outside world. The device uses 12 cameras, five sensors and six microphones to display the outside world, according to Apple.

“Data from the camera and other sensors is processed at the system level, so individual apps do not need to see a user’s surroundings to enable spatial experiences,” Apple stated.

The device is powered by visionOS, Apple’s new AR operating system platform which they announced alongside the Vision Pro.

Apple’s platform is designed for productivity rather than gaming. However, the device does support bluetooth game controllers and will launch with support for more than 100 Apple Arcade titles which can be played on a virtual display within the headset.

Apple says the headset is great for remote work, with features for collaboration and productivity. “You can even bring your Mac wirelessly into Apple Vision Pro just by looking at it,” said Apple Vision Pro Product Manager Allessandra McGinnis.

Apple also unveiled Spatial FaceTime, letting you see other participants life-size around you. “With spatial audio built right into Vision Pro, you hear each person’s voice coming from the location of their tile, making group conversations easier and more natural,” McGinnis said.

Spatial FaceTime also lets users share their screens to collaborate on a presentation or watch a movie together, according to Apple. A user participating in a FaceTime call via a Vision Pro device will be shown to others as a “Persona” – an AI-generated representation of them that mirrors their movements – rather than a video feed.

The headset also has a feature called spatial photo and video, which lets users record and playback 3D photos and videos. “It lets you capture and relive your memories in 3D with spatial audio,” said En Kelly, senior engineering program manager for the technology development group at Apple. “It’s magical, and impossible to fully appreciate on a 2D screen.”

The headset also displays the wearer’s eyes on an outward-facing display. “Your eyes are a critical indicator of connection and emotion, so Vision Pro displays your eyes when someone is nearby,” said Alan Dye, VP of human interface at Apple. “This breakthrough innovation is called EyeSight.”

“Not only does EyeSight reveal your eyes, it provides important cues to others about what you’re focused on,” Dye said. The headset does not display the user’s eyes when they are in an experience that prevents them from seeing their surroundings. However, if someone approaches the user, they will be displayed within the headset and the device will show the user’s eyes once again.

“This is a day that’s been years in the making – one that I’ve really been looking forward to,” Cook said. “ I believe that augmented reality is a profound technology. Blending digital content with the real world can unlock experiences like nothing we’ve ever seen.”

Josh Levin is the founder and editor in chief of The Terabyte Tribune, handling all aspects of operations and coverage. He can be reached via email at [email protected]