When I got a chance to try out Apple’s Vision Pro headset several weeks ago, there was one big difference between what I wore and the display models shown off by Apple.
The official photos and videos showed a sleek over-the-eyes wearable that strapped around the back of the wearer’s head with a wide, comfortable-looking band, like a set of ultra-premium ski goggles.
The version of the Vision Pro I had a chance to wear added something to the physical package, a second headtrap that went over the top of my skull. It was there to provide additional support and better balance the weight of the headset on my head.
Why the difference between the public visuals and the private demo hardware? The Vision Pro is far from complete, and demo sessions very often use under-development or incomplete hardware, and in my many years of reviewing tech products, there have often been differences between our initial look at a new product and the final shipping version.
But that doesn’t address the big issue here, which is that virtual reality (or as Apple calls it, spatial computing) headsets are essentially big head-mounted computer-plus-monitor rigs. Because of the computing power required, these are typically heavy and bulky and the distribution of hardware around the headset has to be carefully managed to create a wearable halo that won’t fall off your head too easily.
That’s why nearly every previous virtual or mixed reality headset has included some kind of top strap as well as the behind-the-back strap. That goes for early models like the original Oculus Rift and HTC Vive as well as more recent headsets like the Oculus Quest 2. There’s even a healthy third-party business in aftermarket accessories for popular headsets, promising heftier straps and better weight distribution.
Some headsets, like the PSVR 2 or Hololens 2 combine a large back piece that’s less flexible than a simple strap with an equally large angled forehead piece, sandwiching the device into your skull.
In a newsletter from Bloomberg’s Apple reporter Mark Gurman, he says the head strap might indeed be part of Apple’s final design, but also might not come in the box by default, which would be an interesting choice for a device that will cost $3,500. Gurman writes: “To address the weight issue, Apple has developed a second strap that goes over a wearer’s head. But the company is considering selling that strap as an extra accessory rather than including it in the box.”
That decision could open up the door for more third-party accessories, making the Vision Pro highly customizable, much like other Apple products from the iPhone to the iPad to the MacBook all have endless cases, stands and other add-ons.
But it also points to the Vision Pro as a potentially unfinished product, and I have a long-standing issue with devices that ship practically requiring accessories to be fully functional. Some cases that jump out in my memory include Valve’s Steam Deck, which really needs a sold-separately (or 3D-printed) stand, and Microsoft’s Surface Pro line, which is built around an excellent keyboard cover that the company forces you to buy separately.
The idea that the seemingly necessary (if I had to wear it during my demo, it seems pretty necessary) head strap will be an extra cost isn’t great for early adopters, but it also means you can likely give your money to any number of accessory makers instead of Apple.
None of which solves the biggest spatial/virtual/augmented/mixed reality hardware problem. Until we get something down closer to the size the weight of a pair of eyeglasses, which was reportedly Apple’s original design goal for this category, we’re still going to be struggling to attach a high-end computer, plus double monitors, to our human-sized heads.