I’ve spent a lot of time with the Vision Pro, turning my experience into both the newsletter you’re reading and one of the first two episodes of my upcoming iHeartRadio podcast Better Offline. I wrote the majority of this newsletter on the Vision Pro itself, though as you’ll read, that required a Bluetooth keyboard.
And while working on the first draft, it took me 15 minutes and two restarts to try and rename the title of the Google Doc I was writing in. Apple’s $3500 “spatial computer” which, to quote Apple’s marketing literature, you “navigate simply with your eyes, hands and voice” refused to track my eye to the top of the document, continually selecting the wrong menu items.
I assumed this was potentially due to a poor fit, so I pulled it off my head, adjusted a strap, put it back on, and saw that the Vision Pro no longer showed me anything — just a grainy image of the world around me without anything projected onto it. This is a bug that’s happened to me five different times, and this entire experience is indicative of what the Vision Pro is: simultaneously the most interesting and annoying piece of technology ever made.
Practically speaking, the Vision Pro is a head-worn computer that attaches either with a single-band wrap called the “Solo” band, which adjusts with a little wheel, or the Dual Loop band, which adjusts with two extremely basic velcro straps. The headset itself features a big sheet of glass and metal, with a series of cameras and sensors for measuring the space around you and letting you “see” the world using passthrough technology — a fancy way of saying “there are cameras that show your surroundings. Inside, there’s even more cameras and two 4K OLED screens (which is how you see the Vision Pro’s operating system), and something called a “light seal,” a clip-on surface that blocks the world out, with an attached cushion that stops it from digging into your face.
One cannot simply order a Vision Pro, though. No, you must have an iPhone or iPad with Face ID to scan your face so that Apple can order you the right-sized light seal, face rest, and head strap.
If you’re concerned that Apple would mess this up, you are absolutely right to be. My first scan gave me a light seal that didn’t really seem right, so I scanned it again a day later and got a larger light seal, which ran me an astonishing $300. This process outright sucks, and is the least “Apple” experience I’ve ever seen — the hallmark of a product rushed out without any real planning or thought. A little scraping of Reddit suggests that one can swap these out at an Apple store, but I couldn’t actually find any Apple literature on this myself.
The device itself isn’t small, but definitely isn’t as bulky or awkward as the Oculus Quest I own. It took about half an hour of messing with the fit to find something comfortable, but unlike the Oculus or any other VR I’ve used, it just works. I put it on, turn it on, and it powers up.
Sidenote: You may be wondering why there’re no screenshots of my use of the Vision Pro, and the answer is that taking a screenshot of your workspace is extremely awkward. I posted one to Bluesky last week, and for reasons that I cannot ascertain it looks blurry and weird in a way that it didn’t on the screen.
A Load-Bearing When
The initial setup of the Vision Pro requires you to look at your hands, then look at several colored spots hanging in the ether, and then tap with your fingers. Once that’s done, you’re presented with a slate of familiar apps. When I say “presented,” the Vision Pro effectively projects these icons onto the world in front of you. The screen is sharp and the text is smooth, icons are rich with color and have a satisfying pop when you look at them. That’s for the best, given it’s the primary way of navigating this device. You look at an icon and then tap your fingers. The Vision Pro’s cameras can see your hands by your sides, and can see where you’re looking so that, theoretically speaking, you can use the device with just your hands and eyes.
Essentially, the world is your desktop. You open Safari, and messages, and whatever else, and you move those windows by pinching the line below them and then dragging them around the space. When it works, this is genuinely magical — a truly functional workspace that turns basically anywhere you are into a huge desktop. Resizing windows by grabbing at the corners and throwing things around feels both satisfying and futuristic. Apple has, on some level, delivered a consumer-friendly augmented reality experience that anyone can use, when it works.
Sadly, as I’ve hinted, that was a load-bearing “when.”
The first thing to realize about the Vision Pro is that it has the single worst keyboard I have used on a modern consumer device. And remember — Apple once made a keyboard so bad it ended up on the receiving end of a class action lawsuit. This makes the Butterfly Keyboard of the 2015-2020-era MacBooks look like some pretentious $200 mechanical keyboard that an unrepentant software engineer would obsess over.
It is so poorly-devised, so horribly executed, and so offensively unfit for the task that I cannot understand how this device was allowed to launch with it. Typing involves selecting the keys on this keyboard by looking at them and then pinching. While this works for big, chunky items like windows or app icons, it’s ill-suited for tasks where you need to precisely select something from a densely-packed group of things. Typing is the best example of that. Eye-tracking and pinching is extremely clunky when it comes to selecting letters.
The result is that without a bluetooth keyboard, the Vision Pro is effectively useless at any kind of written communication, relying on Apple’s voice assistant “Siri” to backfill, which, like most voice assistants, is a C+ replacement. If I had a strong regional accent — like a thick Scottish brogue — that grade would probably drop a few letters.
One might think the solution here would be to get a bluetooth keyboard — perhaps one of the Magic Keyboards that Apple sells — and one would be only 50% correct.
For reasons I cannot ascertain, the Vision Pro treats bluetooth keyboards unlike any other device, acting with abject surprise. It randomly adds blue outlines to things. It often doesn’t select the place you want to type. This may be partially based on the fact that the Vision Pro is still tracking your hands as you type, suggesting that Apple’s engineers did not consider the fact that people use their hands to type on keyboards.
Writing in a Google document — one of the web’s most common tasks — is an exercise in frustration. Sometimes it will arbitrarily decide that I need to move the entire window, or that I can type, but I cannot navigate through words with the arrow keys. Sometimes it will open the software keyboard when I am typing, which I then have to close.
Texting someone on iMessage is similarly difficult. One might think this would be a simple case of looking, and then typing. What actually happens is the Vision Pro freaks out, unable to tell whether you’d want to use the Bluetooth keyboard you’ve attached or the onscreen keyboard, and eventually choosing not to select the chat at all.
While this may seem petty, I want to be crystal clear — the Apple Vision Pro, Apple’s first new kind of computer in some time, is incapable of simply letting me type words in a document without experiencing some kind of histrionic user interface confusion.
Apple, a company that redefined the computer several times over, has managed to launched a $3500 device that at its most basic level cannot let me type words on a fucking page, and it is astonishing that this company would launch a product so utterly ramshackle in its execution. It isn’t clear why, for example, I cannot simply type in this document, check my texts, and then immediately return to my document without the Vision Pro either failing to let me start typing or dropping my cursor in the middle of the page.
These are bugs — obvious, ridiculous bugs — and Apple has shown an utter loathing for customers that they are so common.
There are plenty more, too. On taking the device off and putting it on again, 50% of the time it will simply not load the user interface, forcing a hard restart. I have had multiple times where the eye tracking simply did not work, selecting stuff that I was clearly not looking at. Apple rushed ahead without a full app ecosystem, relying on compatibility with “millions of iPhone and iPad apps” that aren’t really compatible at all, including chat app Signal, which requires you to take a picture of a QR code to connect to your account. As I’ve mentioned, while there is technically bluetooth keyboard support, Apple has done such a lazy, half-assed, thoughtless job with it that it is barely an improvement over using their awful software keyboard.
Though it might be hard to believe that I cut anything from 4600 word review, the original draft of this newsletter included numerous other annoyances, such as poor eye-tracking, focus issues (both in overall sharpness and around the edges of things I was looking at) and a multitude of user interface bugs. I had, at one point, prepared to write a truly scathing review of this device, until I found out that most of these problems were the result of a poor fit, despite the fact that I was using Apple’s recommended sizing.
To try a different-sized light seal costs an astonishing $300, and the light seal cushions cost an additional $30 each. I got lucky enough to find someone with exactly the same issue I had on Reddit - someone that Apple’s app sized for a 21W, then they tried a 23W on a whim, it was better, but a trip to the Apple store nailed it at 23N.
These numbers are all nonsense and based on some sort of internal calculus that would have made Steve Jobs take a hostage. Had I not spent hours trying to work out these issues and spending $90 on different eye cushions, I would have assumed that the Vision Pro was just kind of awkward if you didn’t “put it on right.” It turns out it’s meant to feel a certain way every time, and in many cases, I think people would simply return the device rather than correct the homework of a company with $250 billion in cash in the bank.
It is a complete disgrace that a company as large as Apple could ship a product (one, I add, that costs several times more than most people pay for rent) requiring such a precise fit, and then trusting these measurements to a phone’s face scanner. The difference between fits on a Vision Pro is the difference between the clarity of a 720p screen and a 4K screen, and there is little out there to tell you what “right” feels like.
If Apple was a responsible company, they would demand customers come in to pick up their Vision Pros. But instead of doing the expensive, important and hard work of building, say, satellite fitting appointments or more thorough remote fitting, they would rather burden an indeterminate amount of customers with an inferior experience.
I have absolutely no data on this subject, but based on even a cursory glance at social media, there are many people who simply do not know if they are getting the intended experience. I spent days with this device feeling uncomfortable and trying to make it work in a predictable, reliable manner without success. I did try and schedule a call with Apple Support, but when the time came around, I spent 5 minutes giving them basic information about my device, at which point the specialist dropped my call, dumping me back on hold with a chirpy voice telling me a specialist would be with me in a few minutes. After 10 minutes, I hung up.
Apple does, allegedly, have pop-ups that are meant to warn you of a poor fit or issues with eye tracking. They never appeared once, and I had simply assumed that Apple had not quite worked out how to implement a consistent experience yet.
And what’s really frustrating is that Apple was very, very close to doing something marvelous.
Seeing The Future
The Vision Pro itself should never be worn outside or around people, but it gives you the ability to see the world around you as you use it, in a way that means grabbing a soda or petting a cat is something you can do without feeling like you’re wholly disconnected from the physical things around you. It’s cool, and when the Vision Pro decides it wants to function, there’s an undeniable sense of wonder about being able to look at a giant desktop that sits around you that you scroll through with subtle gestures like you’re in Minority Report. When eye tracking functions like it’s meant to, things really do feel natural. You can whip around distinct apps, resizing and moving things at will, all faster than one would on an iPhone or Mac.
And watching videos — especially concerts — feels really, truly incredible. One of the Vision Pro’s features allows you to shroud the world around you with a scenic vista (or darkness, if you wish), which locks you into whatever you’re working on with a remarkable focus that I haven’t experienced on another device.
As someone with a diagnosed and medicated case of attention deficit disorder (inattentive flavor), I found myself truly engrossed in whatever I was working on — writing this newsletter, watching a movie, reading something — in a way that I know will genuinely benefit me in the future. Due to the fact it effectively creates an endless world to put apps on, the Vision Pro allows you to blow up any video to a massive size, giving the feeling that you’re watching a movie theater-sized version of anything you can throw at it. I sat one night drinking a milkshake and watching a 4K Queens of the Stone Age concert off of YouTube’s web player while texting loved ones and found myself tapping my foot and muttering along like an idiot.
When it works, when it’s adjusted, when you have exactly the right fit, when you don’t have a website that doesn’t like the Vision Pro, when you have turned off features like “automatically load Siri when I look at certain things” and “track gestures from both hands,” and when (and only when) you use a Bluetooth keyboard, the Vision Pro feels something that you could use a form of — albeit one day in the future, when it’s half the price, has ten times as many apps, and is half the weight and size.
The Vision Pro works in a way that makes the world melt away, for better or for worse. There will likely be many agonizing thinkpieces about how the Vision Pro distances its users from the world around them, and exists as some kind of escapism, to which I say “good,” because for the first time in using technology in quite some time, I actually feel like I can fully focus on what I’m doing. Perhaps I am a big, dumb ape, cooing my space goggles as they project a 150” Trivium concert into my eyeballs, but I am happy and locked in when I’m doing so.
There are moments with the Vision Pro that feel like the future — the first really “new” thing in tech in some time, and the kind of little brush of excitement that you were meant to get with ChatGPT. I have a giant, endless desktop inside this thing, one I can rearrange with my hands and move between with my eyes. I have never been able to write sitting on the couch. I have to sit at a desk, or I can’t focus. And yet, I wrote thousands of words of this piece while sitting on the couch with a bengal cat lying across my legs.
I, of course, had to use the Bluetooth keyboard, which only became stable when I fiddled with settings, and the Vision Pro still randomly surprises me with the on-screen keyboard — although less frequently than before.
And unlike other VR headsets I’ve used in the past, the Vision Pro is, thankfully, not uncomfortable, at least when using the dual loop. While you certainly feel aware that you have something on your head, I’ve used them for hours at a time with none of the headaches or weirdness I have felt with other devices — though after 2 hours of struggling to write 3300 words on this device, I did feel a little tightness in my brow, though that might be from consternation.
Sadly, as you’ve no doubt heard, the Vision Pro uses a tethered battery pack that weighs 353 grams — enough that you need to put it in a pocket, or pay $50 for the embarrassing battery-holster that Apple sells.
And that’s ultimately the problem with the Vision Pro — for every moment where it feels like you’re experiencing the future, you’re marred by the limitations of a product that Apple forced out onto the market, knowing that they’d be able to make half a billion dollars off of a device that wasn’t ready.
There have been moments using this product where I’ve been genuinely taken aback by its ability to project a massive, highly-adjustable desktop onto the world around me, matching the brightness of the room I’m in or shrouding it in darkness so I can focus. It has remarkable speakers with spatial audio that makes watching stuff feel like you’re watching a big screen with a 5.1 surround sound system attached. - Although, as many have noted, these are speakers, and thus you’ll want to wear headphones when using it, particularly if you’re in a public place or a shared workspace.
You can also connect the Vision Pro to your Mac and use it as a giant monitor, while also using any attached USB devices at the same time. And I’ve found that when I attach Apple’s magic trackpad, the Vision Pro’s interface becomes a little less chaotic.
But I cannot shake the feeling that Apple foisted this upon us with a genuine loathing for the customer, an utter feeling of disregard for the quality of the product they were shipping. While the Vision Pro looks and feels like a high-quality device — in line with high-end Macbook Pros — its software constantly fails the user in a way that highly suggests that Apple just didn’t give much of a shit.
Even the cheapest VR headsets in their earliest forms didn’t have this level of outright hostility toward the basic user experience. And yet, here we are using a device that, when paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, defaults to asking me for a voice input to put a URL into a web browser. If these were passing quirks, little wrinkles in a largely positive product, I’d be able to forgive them — but these are constant, annoying, frustrating interruptions, and there are so many of them that I could spend another half an hour listing them, and likely run into several more as I did so.
A Lack of Foresight
There is a future where the Vision Pro is something very special, and a product that defines a very different form of computing where you’re able to view and interact with your digital life in a way that defies the physical limitations of the space you’re in. Except that future is severely limited not just by the astonishingly high price of the Vision Pro, but by how shoddily and recklessly Apple chose to launch it.
Apple’s commercials show users happily flitting between windows, opening and closing them at will, having conversations and interactions without issue, but the reality is much more frustrating. Because the Vision Pro totally takes over your vision, each of these user interface errors are significantly more jarring and upsetting, feeling like you’re trapped in a digital world that mocks you at every turn for not correctly manipulating a system that a trillion-dollar company failed to complete.
In many respects, the Vision Pro is the consumer tech equivalent of CyberPunk 2077 — a game released in 2020 to unprecedented levels of hype, but was initially virtually unplayable due to the myriad of bugs that infested the title. The ambitions of players collided with the reality of a half-finished game, and they were furious. Many felt like they were treated as unpaid beta testers. Over time, and thanks to dozens of major patches and software updates, Cyberpunk 2077 became not merely playable, but one of the best games of modern history. And I can see the Apple Vision Pro following a similar path — although it’s harder to swallow being treated as a beta tester, considering the vast delta in price between the Vision Pro and a PlayStation game.
I want to use the Vision Pro. I want to watch movies, and write emails and texts. I want to read Twitter and Bluesky and listen to music, and sometimes the Vision Pro lets me, before abruptly selecting a menu option I wasn’t looking at, or failing to let me type something because it somehow saw the edge of one of my hands move. I don’t want the software keyboard to pop up and obfuscate my vision because I decided to type something. I want this thing to work, and I want Apple and every tech company to stop releasing half-finished shit and charging people for the privilege of using it.
Other than the user interface issues, nowhere is this rush job more obvious than in Apple’s “persona” avatar feature, where you scan your face by taking the Vision Pro off and pointing it at yourself.d The first time I did this, my Vision Pro locked up, requiring a reset. Even when it “works”, the results are horrifying, with the Vision Pro creating a ghostly 3D scan of your face that appears when anyone Facetimes you, and that matches your expressions and movements.
And that’s really what the Vision Pro boils down to — a series of curious-sounding ideas that must have sounded great in a boardroom but in reality are somewhere between annoying and hideously ugly.
Apple can potentially fix these problems, and the result will be a device that, while fascinating, engrossing and truly “new,” doesn’t actually really have a use case. There is nothing on here that I can’t do anywhere else, and as we speak, the Vision Pro is absolutely atrocious at the very basic things you do on any personal computing device, restrained by a thoughtless software design and a rushed launch.
Even if all of these problems were fixed, my fundamental perspective on the Vision Pro would remain unchanged — namely, that this is a cool, truly “personalized” computing environment, albeit one that isn’t essential for anybody. If this experience was flawless, it would still be something I’d have trouble recommending to anyone, because there’s not a single thing on this device that you can’t already do elsewhere.
Apple has, with the Vision Pro, tried to do the opposite of Zuckerberg’s made-up metaverse, projecting your computing experience onto the world in a way that wants you to be completely aware of your surroundings. This isn’t meant to be virtual reality — it’s a new kind of interface, one that you should be able to use anywhere to do anything you can do with a regular computer.
The problem is that Apple has either lost its fastball or its respect for the average user. The Vision Pro has its moments of wonderment — entire unregretted half-hours of delight where you’ll be able to browse social media while watching a 150” Soundgarden concert with high-quality spatial audio. Then you’ll look in the wrong direction, or your hand will twitch, and it will decide you need to exit full screen, or adjust the size of the screen, or you’ll get a text from someone with a too-loud “bing!” that pops up a green text bubble that you can’t get rid of without opening the app. And when you do so, it’ll often block a chunk of your vision with the software keyboard.
As you can tell, I am deeply frustrated with the Vision Pro, but that’s because I like so many parts of it so very much. The bones are there for a truly different computing experience — one which could replace my Macbook and allow me to do focused work when I’m traveling. It’s an environment that directly appeals to me, where distractions — and just to be clear, as I wrote that, the Vision Pro’s software keyboard popped up for no reason — are blocked out through a combination of software and hardware that’s genuinely awesome. I love having a giant desktop with moveable windows that I can focus on at will, zooming through them with gestures and pinches that feel natural and smooth. And I hate how often these wonderful concepts are marred by offensively poor software design.
It also can't be said enough how terribly they have done with apps. You can't remote play PlayStation 5, or use Xbox Game Pass, despite being able to remote play to a huge personal screen being an obvious use case. There's no YouTube app or Spotify app or Signal App. There's not even a Slack app.
It is impossible to recommend the Vision Pro in its current form. It is too expensive, its experience too variable, its supply chain too thin, and its developer community too sparse. Without a bluetooth keyboard, it is a claustrophobic, frustrating and unproductive space. With one, it becomes a highly-customizable and consistent desktop space that I can pop up wherever I am. The passthrough feature gives me as much awareness as I need of the world around me, though not to the extent I’d use it in public. I can move around and close and resize things with minute gestures, and when it works, it looks and feels very cool, and is a far more natural interface than the iPhone or iPad.
When it works, and with the right fit it’s much, much more consistent, looking and pinching at menu options feels great, letting you sweep and move through apps and websites like a weird little wizard. When it works, I have more space than my regular setup — a 48” curved gaming monitor on a massive L-shaped desk.
And yet, I can’t say it’s worth $3500. It’s interesting. Despite its warts, I plan on keeping my Vision Pro, and will likely use it a great deal, particularly when traveling. As someone with ADHD, it will help me stay focused and on-track. And yet, it’s also inessential, incomplete, and delivered in a way that is equal parts insulting and infuriating.
For the price of the Vision Pro, you can get a brand new 15" MacBook Air and a 1 terabyte iPhone 15 Pro Max and still have hundreds of dollars left to spare. While I love the immersion of the experience, there is nothing the Vision Pro does better — and there are plenty of things it can’t do.
There are few reasons why the Vision Pro should have shipped in such terrible shape, other than the fact that Apple needed to show double-digit revenue growth to bored investors. They have done little work to confirm that the very basic parts of the internet work with any reliability, little work to build an app ecosystem that marvels the iPad — let alone the iPhone — and have made such incredibly frustrating software choices that it makes me wonder how much quality control actually went into this product.
As it currently stands, the Vision Pro is an intriguing, exciting look into a future where trillion-dollar tech firms ship beta hardware with alpha software and hope that we’ll thank them for the privilege of helping them fix it.