Apple's Upcoming VR Headset and the Future of Content Creation

The world’s global tech superpowers are intent on corralling mankind into a virtual world – and the latest attempt comes from arguably the biggest hitter, Apple. At the company’s 2023 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook used his “one more thing” moment to reveal the Apple Vision Pro mixed-reality headset and its all-new operating system; visionOS. Yesterday, Apple announced at CES 2024 that the headset will go on sale from next month. So what is it, and why is it a big deal?

This isn’t just any old virtual-reality headset: Apple claims it ushers in the “era of Spatial Computing”. In non-Apple speak, it’s a device that combines virtual and augmented reality into a product that could transform the way we interact with content, as well as how we create it. Apple has gone all out to create a platform that currently has no direct comparison. Despite not being see-through, you can still see the real world while wearing the Apple Vision Pro headset, thanks to its complex sensor arrays. On the outside, a pair of high-res cameras transmits over one billion pixels per second to displays inside, allowing you to see out. Inside the device are two 4K OLED displays, roughly the size of an SD card each. The unit is packed with cameras, LED lights, and infrared sensors to track your eye movement, your hands, and the surrounding environment.

With over 500 patents associated with it, the Apple Vision Pro headset deploys many innovative approaches. For one, it can pass through an animation of your eyes to its outer OLED display in real time. Activated while ‘looking’ at the outside world, this is produced using 3D data scanned from your face. It animates your eyes using a camera sensor array that’s focused on their movement within the device. There are two spatial audio speakers beside the wearer’s ears. These are designed to provide detailed sound corresponding to where the audio is coming from, reacting as you turn your head to pay attention to the source.

The device is controlled using the movement of your eyes and hands, and predictive modeling makes it seem almost telepathic. As a demonstration of this kit’s potential, it’s impressive. But what impact could it have on the way we consume content?

When Apple sneezes, the world of tech catches a fever, so this could be the shot in the arm that VR needs. We’ve been speculating for decades about when a sci-fi level of mixed reality would arrive; Apple wielding its mass-market appeal over a niche domain has the potential to deliver it. Apple’s Vision Pro, as a spatial computer (attached to a keyboard and mouse), would remove the need for computer monitors while editing your pictures and videos, placing a high-resolution display that wraps around you in all directions, anywhere you can set up a desk. It could make working on the go and working collaboratively seamless, as others can step into the edit with you in a way that they can’t when watching a shared screen via a typical online meeting platform.

While there are still some drawbacks with this first-generation device, including a two-hour battery life and tethered-only power, the Apple Vision Pro will likely spark a rush of software makers and content producers seeking ways to use immersive camera technology even more. This means more focus on 360° and high-res video, as well as spatial audio. If you’ve only ever had a passing interest in 360° camera tech, perhaps now is the time to start familiarizing yourself with its potential. You may also want to start thinking more about how the content you capture today will be viewed in tomorrow’s world, after the Apple Vision Pro releases next year.