Apple’s Vision Pro headset seems too good to be real — because it basically is

Apple unveiled its new Vision Pro augmented reality headset today during its annual WWDC keynote, along with visionOS, the operating system that’ll power it. The hardware looked extremely impressive, and if the highly polished demos of how the software will work at all reflect what it’s like to use one in person, then this will be an amazing device that truly exceeds the performance and expectations of anything that has come before it in AR. But even if it works exactly as well as Apple would have you believe from its highly produced debut, and even if it ships next year as planned and people can go ahead and buy it, the vision that Apple’s selling here doesn’t really exist in one fundamental way — owing to the tearjerking $3,499 price tag Apple Vision Pro carries alongside its laundry list of impressive specs.

Expectations were high for the final price of Apple’s headset leading up to this event, but “high” generally meant estimates around the $2,000 mark, or up to $2,500 for some. A price tag of $3,499 basically exceeds any predictions and instantly deflated most of the excitement and anticipation from those of us in the newsroom watching the event unfold live and commenting on the news via our shared Slack channel. Apple did a fantastic job with the lead-up — so much so that it convinced more than a few of us that this was a product we wanted (“needed,” we said somewhat facetiously) in our lives. But the price reveal turned any “would buy” in the room into a “definitely not” without hesitation.

Looking back at the technical specifications Apple detailed for Vision Pro in the presentation before it dropped the curtain on the price, you can definitely see why it costs that much. The displays alone, two micro-OLED screens that can provide true 4K resolution, are probably jaw-droppingly pricey, let alone the fancy custom built-in speakers, lidar space sensing, dual onboard custom processors and so much more. Apple Vision Pro is “the most advanced personal electronics device ever” as Apple put it during the presentation, another slide that, when considered now, was definitely put in there to help take away some of the sticker shock.

The pricing means this will appeal to only a cadre of buyers who can afford to spend lavishly on something that, by Apple’s own admission, seems intended to primarily augment and supplement the use of your other pricey kit, including the iPhone and Mac (though at least it isn’t reliant on either for functioning). It’s beyond even stretch range for a lot of tech-forward early adopters who want to get in on the ground floor of something new and exciting.

All that said, it’s not like there isn’t precedent for something that’s out of reach for most laying the groundwork for tech that becomes essentially fundamental for all in the future: The original IBM PC introduced in 1981 retailed for $1,565 (or almost double that for a properly specced out version), which is over $5,000 in today’s dollars. Personal computers were rather expensive for quite a while before benefiting from pricing curves as they grew in popularity.

Apple’s doing a lot here that’s custom, that’s extremely advanced, and that doesn’t scale affordably given the production methods available now. All of that could change, especially with a robust developer story — something this announcement, and the initial slate of sales of this hardware, are definitely intended to encourage. But all that means that what Apple showed during its official unveiling today wasn’t an accurate reflection of a reality any of us will know anytime soon; at best it’s a vision likely five years out in terms of true mass market appeal, providing all the pieces fall into place correctly between now and then.

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